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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

K12: 7

After so much frustration and anger vented here about K12, I could only be fair and write about when things go well.

Today was one such day.  We are still way behind, I am still struggling with a lot of issues and my laundry pile is, once again, enormous, but today was better.  Assignments seemed to come one after the other.  We broke for lunch, but I was able to corral them together again to finish things up.  The fourth and sixth graders are not done, but I'm pretty sure they will be soon.  (Cross fingers vigorously.)  I did have a mini-meltdown this morning, but recovered quickly and persevered.

One of the things I really like about K12 is the boy's math (the younger grades' math is lacking, but not severely, at this point).  He is in sixth grade and working a pre-algebra book.  I am pleased with the rhythm of the program and they seem to have him do just enough practice problems.  Some of the math programs try to make the kids crazy with doing thirty problems when they have mastered it after completing ten.  I know different kids learn at different rates and I have, on occasion, had him do more or less than assigned.

Can you handle one more positive thing?  The first grader FINALLY had some independent work.  There was a history lesson that had an online, read-aloud story.  I put on her headphones and she was able to work without me.  What a nice twenty minutes.  We could use some more of that.

Looks like I must lash the whip to get the hated grammar finished.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

K12: 6

I had one child begin to read in the middle of first grade.  There wasn't much interest before that.  I had another child reading before the fifth birthday.  I have a six year old first grader who is reading, but not completely independently.  She, apparently, is failing.

Problem number twenty-seven with public school:  everyone must meet the same standards at the same time.  You cannot be ahead of the class or you are "gifted."  You cannot be behind the class or you are "slow."  This is where the keeping up with the Jones' mentality begins!  Who freaking cares where you fall on their sliding scale? My kid who read "late," read picture books for about twenty minutes then went straight for Roald Dahl.  My "early" reader stalled when book sizes looked intimidating.  Does that mean the slow reader is now gifted and the gifted reader was suddenly slow?  They both read all of the time and can tell you what they read, how it applies to their life, and if they would recommend it to you.  For crying out loud!  Why do we insist on a nation of mediocre; a people all the same?  My daughter, who is apparently behind in her reading scores, actually loves reading and carries books around, but hasn't had the transformation from unsteady to sure.  Does that mean that she is really behind?  I have a feeling that when reading clicks for her she will be one of those that leaps from Fancy Nancy to Ramona .

In defense of school teachers, they have a lot of kids that they must teach and he can only spread himself so thin.  I understand that, but there are not twenty-eight children in my classroom and I do not have to bow to the publicly drawn standards of average.

We aim to be extraordinary.


Monday, September 20, 2010

K12: 5

In my old way of doing things, a missed day here and there was no big deal.  We would just start up where we left off--even if it was a day or two later than it should have been.  This online school business is not like that; yet another symptom of the overkill of public school.  Now, some things need a lot of work.  Math takes practice and constancy, reading, on the other hand, happens all of the time around here.  Why, for goodness sake, does my son read a 700 page book then have to read his literature assignment and fill out the literature assignment forms?  Frustrating for both of us.  I am not sure how to rectify this situation.  We can have an in-depth conversation about the state of the United States economy (the report came out today that the recession ended in June 2009, yet many people are still out of work), but that doesn't count for anything.  We have to go to the textbooks and fill out the workbook about whatever time in history the public school curriculum writers decided sixth graders need to know.  Ineffective!  If he wants to learn about the Civil War, he'll learn about it.  If he doesn't, well, he won't.  Maybe I've just been too independent for too long.  I understand that not all homes work like our home.  I also know that part of the reason I chose to go with K12 was because I felt the boy (or his mom) needed someone else to create his curriculum.  Still, we are back to the beginning:  If we were doing so great and the program we were following was working, why did we change???

I talked to the girls' teacher on the phone tonight.  I had a misunderstanding about progress requirements.  We are behind.  It is only the first month and it is our first time, but it is frustrating to be behind already.  I say this because I expect April to be tough--it is always hard to encourage the children to study when they are sick of it and ready to go outside after a long winter stuck inside.  September is supposed to be the prime study month!  Crap.

We had book club today.  It went great.  My six year old was motivated to work harder on her reading so she could be a regular member.  It didn't count toward "school."  B.S.  (Ooooh, I almost typed the real words.)  I am so disgusted with public school and my perception of what it teaches our children about learning (learn only what is required, when it is required) and here we are.  Am I deluding myself in thinking K12 isn't exactly public school?  Sure, we don't have recess conversations or bus-riding worries or the other social negatives.  We don't have worn out teachers who don't have time to teach the three R's because they have to teach about bullies and manners, but those aren't the biggest reasons we kept our children home.  The biggest reasons were academic heavy.  Not that we intended them to be the bee winners, but we do intend for them to love learning for life.  We intend to encourage their curiosity and ask questions.

I'm not giving up, but I'm also not yet convinced.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

K12: 4

Isn't is amazing what one conversation with a good friend can do?  I hung up the phone with a whole new vision of what home school + K12 could be.  It was almost like I needed permission to think outside the box--just like I was the one in school.  Maybe if I didn't do things their way, I would get a pink slip or something.  I realized that they are giving me scholastic guidelines.

The next day, school looked a lot different.  For one thing, I gave the children my password.  I NEVER give the children my password, but, in this case, I decided it was an essential coping skill.  I communicate with my children, we have a very small house so I know what they are doing (well, unless it involves a Sharpie), and I trust them.  They aren't to go into my account, but if they are supposed to have me type in my password to give them permission to take a lesson assessment, just tell me what is going on then type in digits.  (The password is just was it says:  momsaid.)  I can't be hoping up and down and all over the house to perform this menial task.

The second change was that I re-instituted Structure Time, Not Content, kind of.  Content is way more structured than at any other time, but they have the autonomy to choose what to do and when.  I printed off their assignments for the week and put them in daily labeled folders.  Tuesday may have a literature assignment and Wednesday may have a science assignment, but if they feel like doing science on Tuesday, go for it!  They know what is expected for the week, given some parental reminders, they can accomplish those expectations in whatever way fits their style.

One of the big problems I found with K12 was that each grade is learning different things.  Now, I'm not talking about the first grader was learning addition, so we're all learning addition.  I'm talking about . . . well, for instance, the fourth grader was doing a unit on ecosystems and did a fun experiment.  Before, I would have had a family unit on the ecosystem and adapted it for the different learning levels.  K12 wants be to do a unit on ecosystem with one child, minerals with another and measurements with another.  This is the third thing I changed for the next day.  We did more learning as a family.  One child was learning about how to use a scale so the younger four all gathered around the table as we learned about weight.  It was a fun unit, so we all did it.  I didn't shoo anyone away because, "this isn't your lesson."  Who cares?  If it is interesting and we want to learn it, we are going to learn it.  This will make some lessons hurried or taught with less care, but others will be rich and exciting.  It is a good exchange.

Fourth, I let myself let the children skip lessons if they don't apply.  Why review the short a sound when a child is reading Level 1 books?  Skip it.  Go right to lessons at their level.

Finally, I kept doing what I knew was working.  When my first grader's assignment was a boring worksheet intended to teach her to count by two's, I threw it out.  When a six-year-old, one week into school, proclaims that she hates school, that is not good.  Instead, we jumped rope and counted by two's, we counted sit-ups, we counted books, we drew on the sidewalk.  She still knew how to count by two's at the end of the lesson, but I didn't hear, "I hate this!" anymore.

And that's where we are.  Slowly, slowly, we are finding our groove within the K12 frame-work.  How is school going for you?


Friday, September 10, 2010

K12: 3

I am not the type who gives up easily.  Sometimes that is a problem, but I think it is mostly a good attribute.  I won't know for another several months whether my perseverance was well placed or not, when it comes to my determination to make K12 work for us.  I had made a mental commitment to give it a real try; to use the program until Christmas Break.

Since we were on vacation until just before school began, I had only a few days to learn the "new" way.  K12 does its very best to explain things to us.  I watched all of the online videos, read introductions to books and tried to get an overall feel for this beast.  Yet, there were seven heavy boxes of curriculum and I only had a few days to learn it.  I had a bit of a feeling that I was going to be a train wreck.

The first day of school came.  The children were excited and willing to learn.  K12 is not just an online school, but they aren't all offline, either.  I thought I could assign blocks of time for each child on the computer, but it didn't work that way.  Each lesson presented itself with fifteen minutes online, then go offline and do this activity/worksheet for twenty minutes, then get back online to answer these questions.  Some lessons consisted of as long as one hour on the computer.  With three needing to use it, I began to think we would need at least one more computer.  And then there is the testing.

Having such a close relationship with my students, I knew whether they understood a concept.  I could tell if they were getting it or if we needed to work it out a few more times.  They have almost never taken a test.  I'm pretty sure that if they were given a bubble sheet to fill out and a number two pencil, they would have no idea what to do.  The oldest two had to take placement exams.  After twenty minutes at the computer, my daughter was groaning with, "How many more questions do I have to do?  This is taking forever!"  The boy didn't complain, but he was done with his test way too quickly.  On the math portion, he only used his scratch paper twice.

The first and fourth graders' work was not independent.  They needed me too much.  The first grader's work was entirely parent and child reliant.  The fourth grader, whom is quite bright and doesn't need me to read her science lesson to her, still had to have me enter my password before she could do one activity or another.  If I was ankle deep in a lesson with another child, I would have to break and go type in my password.  Silly. Not time efficient at all.  The sixth grader needed some one-on-one attention to get a jump start on a completely new math program.  Again, more time.  Now, in defense of K12, they are working with all different levels of home school experience.  I would say I am one of their more advanced learning coaches, having done this for seven years now.  But, having never done their program, I was trying to follow all of the rules.  School was lasting for about ten hours per day.  It was NOT working out for me.

One thing that did delight and surprise me was my children's academic level.  After several days of work and dabbling it each subject area, there wasn't one place where the pods were not at grade level or above.  Having always written my own curriculum, I was never sure of their placement.  Finding us mostly ahead of the curve was a huge relief.

One night, about seven school days in, exhausted and frustrated, I vented to my husband.  He listened patiently and then said, "You need to call Betsy."  Betsy is a dear and valued friend who had children about the same ages as ours and who introduced us to The Thomas Jefferson Education.  I knew she had dabbled in K12, though I didn't know how much, and I knew he was right.  She would be a great sounding board.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

K12: 2

Three kids and seven heavy boxes.  Seven heavy boxes full of everything you might need to school (notice I used the word school and not educate) three elementary aged children.  We got modeling clay, beakers, textbooks, globes, magnifying glasses, maps, math manipulatives, worksheets, books on how to teach everything, a whole phonics course, mini white boards, paint and brushes, and even a pop-up public school teacher.

Or, at least that's how it felt.

The kids were so excited, almost breathless as they poured over the new books, pictures and stuffs.  All I had to buy were the regular school supplies you would already buy:  crayons, pencils, notebooks, binders, paper clips, note cards and so on.  (The one extra thing I bought this year was markers.  Markers don't do well at this house, but I thought the older children might need them for maps or science pages.  They are hidden.  No one knows where they are and they will be pulled out and used in secret.)

I have to admit that I was pretty excited, too.  Having never used anyone else's curriculum, it all looked so, well, easier on me.  I wasn't the person required to research topics about which the children would like to study.  I didn't have to make up games or activities to make learning fun.

I was also overwhelmed with the amount of stuff to store. Where in the world was I supposed to put all of this?  Even though it felt intuitively wrong, I cleared away some of the things in our bookcases:  Childcraft, Time-Life books about oceans/cowboys/the moon, and science encyclopedias, and replaced them with manuals and text books.

And one more really strong emotion.  I felt like I was turning my back on a program in which I believe; a program that has served us well.  Why am I going in a direction that is so different from the one that has been working?


K12: 1

Our oldest is in the sixth grade this year.  Last year, I found myself devoted more and more time to just his curriculum--so much so that the other four children were being a bit neglected.  Okay, they weren't neglected, it was just a lot of work for me.  This made me reach out to find other sources.  I have been hearing about for years and have even looked into it a time or two.  This summer I decided it was time.  I signed him up because I felt that he was ready to be challenged.  Then, because it was free curriculum (of course, not totally free, it is paid for by my tax money, but this is the first time I've been able to take advantage of that fund) and that is a totally new concept to the everyday home schooler, I thought about enrolling more of my children.  I have three who are school-aged.  My first and fourth grade girls are the workbook types.  I thought this online school would fill a desire for them as well.

First thing I noticed:  Paperwork.  Oh, yes, I thought to myself.  I've never had to do all this paperwork before.  Find the immunization cards, the birth certificates, the dental records, the Will, the oil change record, copy them all, fax them, fax them again because something didn't go through.  Fill out other forms, mail and call and check boxes on the web site.  Good grief.  I'm not signing them up to count money in the federal bank.  I just want some books for which I've already paid.

Some fun things along the way, though.  We get to choose an elective.  Different kids, different options, but they could choose from music, art, or language (which included Latin, French, Spanish, Chinese, or German).  The kids got excited thinking about which direction they might choose.

And then, the boxes came.  Seven boxes, three pods.


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