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Archive for the ‘Learning Notes’ Category

— 1 —

 

Back from NYC Sunday night, and nowhere near as productive a week as I had hoped this week, especially with one kid in piano camp all day every day. I’m hopeless. Well, maybe not. I did get a sample for a book proposal done, and will send it off to the editor today for his perusal when he returns from vacation. But that’s about it. Sad!

— 2 —

We have some ch-ch-changes in store for the next school year, about which I’ll write more when August hits. Short version: we are returning to Homeschool Land with my youngest for 7th grade.  The situation is disappointing for him (it was basically his

"amy welborn"

Never cleaned it up…a good thing.

decision) because he wanted to like it, and it’s possible that in the future, things will refashion themselves and it might work out for him. It’s difficult to discuss – impossible to discuss without getting specific, which I don’t want to do and would be unfair. Who knows what will happen in the future? We don’t know – for right now, he’s looking forward to next year – Mom has promised  – promised – that except for math, it will be Unschooling all the way, plus he doesn’t have to get up so darn early, he’ll be able to maintain the friendships he forged during the year, he’ll have more time to work on his music and it will be quality time – not I’m-exhausted-from-school-and-I-have-to-squeeze-practice-in-before-homework time, and he gets to start off the school year in September with a photography class at the local Catholic homeschool co-op – a far better way to spend your Thursday mornings than parsing participial phrases.

— 3 —

I got a little frustrated with myself last night because it occurred to me I haven’t been reading many books over the past few weeks. I spent several minutes searching the house for Doctor Thorne, which I never did find, and can’t even recall the last time I saw. What? How did this happen?

Then I realized…television. After a desert time, over the past few weeks, good (to me) shows have been airing again – namely Better Call Saul and Fargo, and, at a far lesser level, Veep and Silicon Valley. Seriously – far lesser level. But BCS and Fargo have been absolutely intriguing this season (I watched season 1 of Fargo but not 2, btw), but since they are structured like novels, with an endgame in sight, I find it impossible and fruitless to try to write about them until the season finale has aired. It’s that way with Fargo in particular, which is either a pretentious collection of arresting images about truth, falsehood, 1960’s LA, Peter and the Wolf and Communist East Germany or something almost profound – but I’ll only know when I see how it all turns out this coming week.

— 4 —

That said, I was interested in something the AV Club guy wrote about Fargo (don’t read the original if you plan on watching and don’t want to be spoiled for a major plot event – I’ve chosen the excerpt so it doesn’t reveal it)

[Reference to a feud between two brothers….]  without understanding that the feud wasn’t a cut-and-dry case of extortion, it was just some cartoons poking other cartoons. I appreciate that this reveal was always in the cards, but the timing of everything means that not everything lands quite as it should.

Image result for fargo season 3What the writer is referring to is a conflict between brothers – he is saying that the feud didn’t seem to him to have depth as it played out because we didn’t know the specifics about the events causing it until this second-to-the-last episode.

But here’s the thing: What we did know was that the basics of the feud involved one brother trading something of value in a moment of weakness.

Does that sound familiar?

Yeah, it’s Jacob and Esau, blindingly obvious to me since we first met these two.

So this interests me. The feud had some resonance and more depth for me over the season because I understood it as an expression of another story I know very well. Perhaps the series creatives could do better in not assuming that familiarity and drawing themes out more explicitly, but it’s interesting to me that they don’t think they should have to, and what people are missing without that familiarity.

 

— 5 —

That said, and without seeing the last episode yet, I have hope that I won’t be disappointed in a series which has the Worst Bad Guy With the Grossest Teeth admitting:

The problem is not that there is evil in the world. The problem is that there is good. Because otherwise, who would care.

And it happens in an episode called “Aporia” – which forces me to look stuff up and get a little more knowledge in my brain. Always a good thing.

— 6 —

 

I was talking to someone who has another high-school age kid, and this kid is an athlete. The parent was telling me some things about the experience and it took me a second to process what he was telling me…I thought I didn’t understand…I thought he was kidding…but…

Every family is responsible for raising $2000 for the team, plus there’s a $300 fee for participating, plus we’re responsible for selling a certain number of ads for the programs….plus..

…there was some other fee, but I don’t remember what it was.

You know, there are a lot of aspects to American culture I look at and grumble, That’s what’s wrong with us today…but this? This expectation that for a high school sport for which a family already sacrifices much of its summer and free time during the school year….that family still has to raise/fork over $3000 or more??  Really?

Stop. Step away. 

— 7 —

My book sales are certainly seasonal – the saints books and Friendship With Jesus peak from Easter to early June, Bambinelli Sunday at Christmas (duh), and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days around Mother’s Day and Christmas.

The Prove It books have a couple of bumps during the year as well – in the early summer when schools publish their textbook lists for the coming school year, and then August-September when more people (like me) are paying attention and finally getting with the program.

If that’s you – I have a few here for sale. Check it out!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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— 1 —

Here’s a fun website I just discovered – “fun” being defined as a geography/nature-oriented site that my youngest loves.  Amusing Planet – sort of like Atlas Obscura, but less complicated and more focused.  I like it. We like it.

— 2 —

Speaking of such things, check this out:

"amy welborn"

A cache of bound National Geographic magazines from the late 70’s, snagged from the “FREE” bin at our local 2nd and Charles – a used book/CD/DVD/Game chain that’s an offshoot of Books-A-Million (HQ here in Bham).

It pleased my youngest, who was thrilled to get a subscription to NG three years ago, but has of late soured on it, remarking that it is “too political and boring.”

I’m sure there is no scarcity of never-looked-at bound magazines out there, collecting dust in stacks and warehouses across the land before they are pulped.

– 3—

This is from last summer, but in the great tradition of “OMG AUDREY HEPBURN DIED” Facebook posts, just came across my feed this week.

Babies on display: When a Hospital Couldn’t Save Them, a Sideshow Did.

Close to a century ago, New York’s Coney Island was famed for its sideshows. Loud-lettered signs crowded the island’s attractions, crowing over tattooed ladies, sword swallowers — and even an exhibition of tiny babies.

The babies were premature infants kept alive in incubators pioneered by Dr. Martin Couney. The medical establishment had rejected his incubators, but Couney didn’t give up on his aims. Each summer for 40 years, he funded his work by displaying the babies and charging admission — 25 cents to see the show.

In turn, parents didn’t have to pay for the medical care, and many children survived who never would’ve had a chance otherwise.

Lucille Horn was one of them. Born in 1920, she, too, ended up in an incubator on Coney Island.

“My father said I was so tiny, he could hold me in his hand,” she tells her own daughter, Barbara, on a visit with StoryCorps in Long Island, N.Y. “I think I was only about 2 pounds, and I couldn’t live on my own. I was too weak to survive.”

She’d been born a twin, but her twin died at birth. And the hospital didn’t show much hope for her, either: The staff said they didn’t have a place for her; they told her father that there wasn’t a chance in hell that she’d live.

“They didn’t have any help for me at all,” Horn says. “It was just: You die because you didn’t belong in the world.”

But her father refused to accept that for a final answer. He grabbed a blanket to wrap her in, hailed a taxicab and took her to Coney Island — and to Dr. Couney’s infant exhibit.

Dr. Martin Couney holds Beth Allen, one of his incubator babies, at Luna Park in Coney Island. This photo was taken in 1941.

Dr. Martin Couney holds Beth Allen, one of his incubator babies, at Luna Park in Coney Island. This photo was taken in 1941.

Courtesy of Beth Allen

“How do you feel knowing that people paid to see you?” her daughter asks.

“It’s strange, but as long as they saw me and I was alive, it was all right,” Horn says. “I think it was definitely more of a freak show. Something that they ordinarily did not see.”

Horn’s healing was on display for paying customers for quite a while. It was only after six months that she finally left the incubators.

 — 4 —

Since Thursdays have been short, I’ve been tossing the  Daily Homeschool Report   for that day here. Short not that much longer, however, since yesterday was sadly the last day for the homeschool sessions that have been meeting at the Cathedral – major props to the mom who has organized and managed these mornings.  M has really enjoyed these six weeks of drama and science classes – the sessions ended with every group doing a performance, from the youngest singing and reciting the Hail Mary to a group recitation of “Casey at the Bat” from my son’s group performing a short play – Bean Soup. 

— 5 

We did squeeze in some more school in the afternoon. Fractions using the EnVision 6th grade book – as I mentioned, I have the text and CD with printables from my older son, so we are just going with that.  Finished up the War of 1812 with workbook pages from the text and some discussion of the experiences of soldiers in the war from the book of primary source material.  I know there were rabbit trails, but it was almost 24 hours ago, so I unfortunately have forgotten them!

— 6–

The Writing and Rhetoric chapter ended with an exercise in ordering paragraphs of an essay on the hardships the Pilgrims experienced, and I was pleased because it was actually more challenging and subtle than such exercises usually are.

Then a good practice – he has this sonata competition on Saturday, and although we might be a little tired of this piece, in a strange way, we are not – he is really discovering how interesting digging deep into a piece of music can be.

Speaking of music, our Cathedral music director has begun putting the Orders of Worship on line: Check them out, especially the “About Today’s Music” at the end of each one.  It’s just excellent catechesis.

— 7 —

 

Speaking of books…order some from me!  Signed editions of any of the picture books at 8 bucks a title.  Big orders for your entire First Communion class welcome!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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…homeschooling?

Of course not.

That was my reaction after reading this lengthy, and very interesting New Yorker article about a small but massively funded startup called AltSchool hoping to “disrupt” education, in the way of  startups everywhere. Let’s take a look.

It’s called AltSchool and the focus is personalized learning (although there is a reference to students reaching benchmarks in things like math, so I’m not sure how that works). The classrooms are homelike, casual environments, where teachers function more as facilitators, helping students find resources in the areas of interest and asking leading questions in those teachable moments.

Sounds familiar.

Except for the screens. And the data collection. And the video cameras that record everything.

The décor evokes an IKEA showroom: low-slung couches, beanbags, clusters of tables, and wooden chairs in progressively smaller sizes, like those belonging to Goldilocks’s three bears. There is no principal’s office and no principal. Like the five other AltSchools that have opened in the past three years—the rest are in the Bay Area—the school is run by teachers, one of whom serves as the head of the school. There is no school secretary: many administrative matters are handled at AltSchool’s headquarters, in the SOMA district of San Francisco. There aren’t even many children. Every AltSchool is a “micro-school.” In Brooklyn Heights, there are thirty-five students, ranging from pre-kindergarten to third grade. Only a few dozen more children will be added as the school matures. AltSchool’s ambition, however, is huge. Five more schools are scheduled to open by the end of 2017, in San Francisco, Manhattan, and Chicago, and the goal is to expand into other parts of the country, offering a highly tailored education that uses technology to target each student’s “needs and passions.” Tuition is about thirty thousand dollars a year.

Another teacher and a student were looking at a tablet computer that displayed an image of a pink jellyfish. The girl had been drawing her own jellyfish with a violet crayon. “Let’s see if we can learn a name of a new jellyfish,” the teacher said. “Which one do you want to learn more about?” She touched the screen, and another jellyfish appeared—a feathery white one. “This is a . . .hippopodius?” the teacher read, stumbling over the name. “I wonder if this one glows in the dark.” The girl said, “Do you have another pink one?”

Students at AltSchool are issued a tablet in pre-K and switch to a laptop in later years. (For now, AltSchool ends at the equivalent of eighth grade.) When I visited a mixed classroom for second and third graders, most of the children were sunk into their laptops. All were engaged in bespoke activities that had been assigned to them through a “playlist”—software that displays a series of digital “cards” containing instructions for a task to be completed. Sometimes it was an online task. Two children were doing keyboarding drills on a typing Web site. Their results would be uploaded for a teacher’s assessment and added to the student’s online Learning Progression—software developed by AltSchool which captures, in minute detail, a student’s progress.

 

 

“What is a castle?—that was your starting question today,” the teacher said. After the girl wrote a response, on paper, the teacher snapped a photograph of the page, in order to upload it to the girl’s playlist card.

She might also send it to a parent’s phone, using AltSchool Stream, an app that enables instant communication between home and school. Meanwhile, above the students’ heads, a network of white audio recorders hung from the ceiling, and fish-eye lenses were embedded in the walls. The goal of this surveillance system, AltVideo, is to capture every word, action, and interaction, for potential analysis.

And here’s where I went….wait. You want a bespoke educational experience that you can monitor to the second? Why not just save 30K and stay home and do it yourself? Well, I guess you’d have to forfeit that 400K salary, so never mind. 

The video surveillance creeps me out.  Later in the article, it says the video is not saved, but Lord. Would you want to send your kid to a school where every move of theirs is tracked and monitored and recorded? This is so weird. These tech people really are closet fascists.

The more Ventilla thought about education, the more he thought that he could bring about change—and not just for his own children. Instead of starting a “one-off school,” he would create an educational “ecosystem” that was unusually responsive to the interests of children, feeding them assignments tied to subjects they cared about.

Hahaha.  Welcome to my educational ecosystem unusually responsive to the interests of children:

"amy welborn"

I’ll take your 30k!

Ventilla also wanted students to focus on developing skills that would be useful in the workplace of the future, rather than forcing them to acquire knowledge deemed important by historical precedent. “Kids should be spending less time practicing calculating by hand today than fifty years ago, because today everyone walks around with a calculator,” Ventilla told me. “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to do math—I shouldn’t have to whip out my phone to figure out if someone gave me the correct change. But you should shift the emphasis to what is relatively easier, or what is relatively more important.” Ventilla loves languages—his parents are Hungarian, and he grew up bilingual before studying French and Latin in school. He later learned some Persian, so that he could understand what a girlfriend’s family was saying about him at the dinner table. But he’s not certain that his daughter should devote similar energy to language acquisition. “If the reason you are having your child learn a foreign language is so that they can communicate with someone in a different language twenty years from now—well, the relative value of that is changed, surely, by the fact that everyone is going to be walking around with live-translation apps,” he said.

This is legitimate and echoes conversations happening in education all over the place. What his answer misses, though, is that there are deeper reasons for studying math and language beyond skill acquisition. Both, for example, involve coming to an understanding of structure, and even as a non-math person, I find the study of math as a mean of encountering logic and structure, even at the elementary level, to be very useful.

And interesting. 

None of these backers want merely to own part of a chain of boutique micro-schools. Rather, they hope that AltSchool will help “reinvent” American education: first, by innovating in its micro-schools; next, by providing software to educators who want to start up their own schools; and, finally, by offering its software for use in public schools across the nation, a goal that the company hopes to achieve in three to five years.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are convinced that the flexibility and innovation of the tech sphere can be productively and profitably applied to the education sector, which is perceived as sclerotic.

I don’t disagree at all.  But software isn’t going to help schools attain flexibility. Only the freedom to be flexible will do that. That’s not a technical issue, but a political one.

Seyfert pulled up the Learning Progression spreadsheet of one of her students, a seventh grader. Grades from kindergarten to eighth grade were denoted on the X axis, and various subject areas on the Y axis. Areas of completed study—sixth-grade math, for example—were indicated by cells filled in with green. Areas the student was still working on—seventh-grade science, for instance—were colored orange. In English, he was working well ahead of his expected grade level. Seyfert could click on each subject area to get more precise information about his progress. The effect was rather like opening an online report from a credit-card company that can show expenditures by category—Shopping, Travel—as well as specific purchases. She could see how many articles the student had read on Newsela, a site that provides Associated Press articles edited for different reading levels. She could click to see the student’s scores on the quizzes that accompanied each article, and then go into the article itself to read his annotations and marginal notes.

Here and there a solitary orange cell indicated an area that the student had not yet mastered. A student might have been sick the week that his fifth-grade class consolidated its knowledge of fractions and might not quite have grasped the principle. “If I notice he is really scoring low on a standard, I can go and look at the cards that assess that standard and see where the breakdown is happening,” Seyfert explained.

At the same time, educators at AltSchool are discussing whether children really need to attain certain skills at particular stages of their educational development, as the Common Core implies. Seyfert thinks that it might be more useful to think of learning not as linear but as scrambled, like a torrent file on a computer: “You can imagine all the things you need to learn, and you could learn it all out of order so long as you can zip it up at the end, and you are good to go.”

I resonate with that last paragraph, but the first two, not so much. Every time I go to a parent night at a school – even our not-alt-schools – I feel so sorry for teachers. There is just a ridiculous level of complexity to that 50 minute class session now. You must account for all the different learning styles. You must incorporate all kinds of technology and digital media into your presentation and the students’ work. You might want to flip your classroom. You must have an inquiry-based classroom. You’ve got to prep the kids for the testing. All this in addition to the usual and pervasive cultural and social resistance to learning and insane parental expectations.  I honestly don’t think I could do it.

And track every student move during the day?

So this struck me as true:

Daniel Willingham, an education scholar at the University of Virginia, told me that adopting technology in schools can be maddeningly inefficient. “The most common thing I hear is that when you adopt technology you have to write twice the lesson plans,” he told me. “You have the one you use with the technology, and you have the backup one you use when the technology doesn’t work that day.” Willingham also notes that the most crucial thing about educational software isn’t the code that assesses student performance; it’s the worthiness of the readings and the clarity of the math questions being presented onscreen. “People are very focussed on the algorithm,” he said. “But equally important is the quality of the materials.”

The gap between AltSchool’s ambitions for technology and the reality of the classroom was painfully obvious the morning that I spent in the Brooklyn school. One kindergartner grew increasingly frustrated with his tablet as he tried to take a photograph of interlocking cubes that he had snapped into a strip of ten. (He was supposed to upload the image to his playlist.) He shook the unresponsive tablet, then stabbed repeatedly at the screen, like an exhausted passenger in a cab after an overnight flight, unable to quell the Taxi TV.

Even when AltSchool’s methods worked as intended, there were sometimes questionable results. The two girls whom I watched searching for seals on Google Images found plenty of suitable photographs. But the same search term called up a news photo of the corpse of a porpoise, its blood blossoming in the water after being rent almost in half by a seal attack. It also called up an image in which the head of Seal, the singer, had been Photoshopped onto a sea lion’s body—an object of much fascination to the students. To the extent that this exercise was preparing them for the workplace of the future, it was also dispiritingly familiar from the workplace of the present, where the rabbit holes of the Internet offer perpetual temptation.

(I’m a long time skeptic of computers and now tablets in classrooms. I’m not impressed when a school brags about how hep they are to the new technology. It’s useful and important for reference and research, but other than that it’s a distraction, the kids play games, and even educational computer games are of very limited value.)

Anyway, you might want to pop over and read the whole thing. My final thoughts:

I was interested in this article because the AltSchool people disdain educational standards (as I do), but they replace the repressiveness of that particular idol with some sort of data-driven goal that is, if you can imagine, even worse.

Track every single blink and computer click, upload it, study it, share it with parents…why?

It seem as if it’s nothing more than a “educational” ecosystem modeled after tech companies.

Which makes sense, if you think about it, for what does most institutional education turn on? Creating new versions of the institution’s vested interest: citizens, consumers, parish loyalists, alumni whose success guarantees big future donations.

So it is not surprising that Silicon Valley types would be dissatisfied with John Dewey’s desired student product and instead strive to form theirs in their own image.

The result: Too many screens, not enough quiet with books and paper and colored pencils and music and distraction-free conversation.

The purpose of education in my mind, is to encourage a person to look at the world, begin to try to understand the world, and point them in the direction of contributing good to the world. Observe, think, create, narrate, problem solve.

There is some of this here, but in the end it fails. Too damn many screens and not enough wisdom-seeking.

Here’s an unpopular opinion, somewhat related.

We went through a very brief Minecraft phase here.  It was brief because they could never quite figure out how to get the most out of the Minecraft experience – they couldn’t figure out mods, my computer doesn’t have enough memory (I think that was a problem)  and I guess to really get into it, you need to play on a server? Or something? And, as I said, it was beyond us and their screen time is so limited, they preferred to use it for other things.

But I still see lots of Minecraft-related material and boosterism, saying how it’s great for teaching math and geometry and creativity, as they make their worlds and so on. Maybe it is! But…

Last night before he went to sleep, my 11-year old asked me to come into his room. There, he spent about twenty minutes showing me pictures he’d been drawing in a notebook, part of an elaborate story and world he is creating. Last night,  I learned all about this planet’s place in its solar system, its religion, its mining system and the giant Lime Snakes that live underground and cause earthquakes when they fight.

I think he’s working on it again right now, sketching it out in a composition book from the dollar store and what he can’t get down on paper, storing data  in a memory bank that is his very own, that not a soul – not even me – can ever, ever mine.

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Time for the Daily Homeschool Report. It’s not fascinating, it’s just a report so you can see how this thing happens in one little corner.

Are you tired of me saying “short day?” Well, here’s another one.  Early dismissal for brother, late start because of the Super Bowl..so yeah. Short day.

  • Scripture reading (we always pray with the daily Mass readings) was 2 Samuel 8 – placing the Ark of the Covenant in the just – built Temple.  I recapped some Solomon stuff that had preceded it.  He recited the list of OT books he knows so far – from Genesis through 2 Chronicles.  Then read the Gospel, prayed the Intentions and an Our Father.
  • Copywork was Scripture, since it’s Monday.  The last part of the Old Testament reading:
  •  Now when the priests came out of the sanctuary, the cloud filled the Temple of the Lord, and because of the cloud the priests could no longer perform their duties: the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s Temple.
      Then Solomon said:
    ‘The Lord has chosen to dwell in the thick cloud.
    Yes, I have built you a dwelling,
    a place for you to live in for ever.’
  • . Half in manuscript, half in cursive.

  • Math was more simplification of expressions –these worksheets from Beast Academy.  A bit of confusion, but by the end, it was understood.
  • He had had homework of sorts over the weekend – to read the first few chapters in the next volume of Hakim’s Story of US – about the early years of the United States – Washington’s presidency, the Hamilton/Jefferson conflict and the establishment of the District of Columbia.  We talked about that – can’t recall the specific points of interest, but there were some.
  • I then made my big announcement about his next “school” book (remember, we did short stories all last week): The Magician’s Nephew.  
  • “Oh, I’ve already read that. Remember?”
  • No, I didn’t.  I knew he hadn’t read all of the Narnia books, claiming he’d gotten bored,  but I didn’t know what he had read.  I guess I should have asked?
  • Okay, well, let’s think of something else then.
  • His brother read Animal Farm last week, and this one had heard us discussing it, so he asked for clarification of what it was about.  I explained who George Orwell was, what type of writing he did, and then the general point/plot of this novel, defining allegory in the process.  He then asked about Fahrenheit 451 , which had been brother’s summer reading.
  • I handed them both to him and told him that if he was interested, go into his room and read the first few pages of both and then whichever one he wanted to read first, that’s what we’d do. He picked the latter.  So it shall be.
  • Let’s see.  What next….Just a bit of Latin – some translating and parsing.
  • Then, let’s finish up with these invertebrates . Crayfish waiting.
  • Read about Crustaceans in the Animal book, which is become the science “spine” (as they say) of the month.
  • This is our third dissection, preceded by the earthworm and the grasshopper.  This was by far the best. The animal is larger and the organs are easier to see.
  • "amy welborn"
  • I also decided to do the dissection to the tune of a video – it just makes a lot of sense to dissect along with someone who knows what he is doing.  We focused on this one, and then after we were done, watched a bit of this one to get a slightly different perspective. It worked very well. We paused it occasionally so not to rush our cutting.  The most interesting parts were first, the gills – I had never known that the stiff but still sort of feathery things that come off with a lobster’s swimmerettes are gills, but that is what they are. Duh. Very interesting to see those and poke around. Secondly, the crayfish stomach, located practically in the head, has “teeth” in it – you can remove the stomach, see the contents – mud, mostly – and see and feel those little hard protuberances.
  • After we’d finished the dissection, I just named the systems, and as I did, he pointed and explained the course and shape of each in the animal. An exercise like this really emphasized exactly what the nervous system, for example is – you can see that central nerve “cord” and trace it along the body up to the head where it splits to go to the eyes and antennae then meets again for the “brain.”  To see the little heart and the hole in it through which the blood flows to the rest of the body in the animal’s open circulatory system – it simply clarifies the basic functions of all of these systems, not only in these simpler animals, but in all creatures.
  • Finally, he watched a video during lunch and after – the first episode of Egypt – a BBC docudrama about late 19th-early 20th century archaeological work.  I told him I’d just like him to try it out – if he doesn’t want to watch the whole series, that is fine.  He said the first one was good “like that Abbey show Katie watches but more interesting,” but I don’t know if he really wants to watch any more of it. We’ll see tomorrow.
  • Timeframe, including video, 10-2.

 

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— 1 —

It’s that time of year. Between basketball games, piano recitals (M’s program does far more than the winter-and-spring-routine. It’s all for the good, but still), and Scout activities, there are no free weekends, and I am in a constant state of low-level seething.

All we need now is a Project to really set me off and send me to Kayak, VRBO or researching international and online schools.

 

— 2 —

In case you have missed it, I’ve started a (for the moment) daily homeschool report. I do it not because I think what we do is so great (it isn’t), but to just put an account of what a sort-of-normal homeschool life is like out there for people who might be looking into it. It’s not “normal” because there is no such thing in the homeschooling world – everyone is different. We don’t do an across-the-board curriculum, we don’t have a particular philosophy, we do no online classes and there’s only one kid doing this at the moment – but what we do is what we do, and dissatisfaction with the brick-n-mortar school is growing at such a pace, I just wanted to put this out there so that people can see it can be done, it’s interesting, and if your only options are schools that don’t meet your child’s needs, and you have the opportunity, your child will not miss anything by homeschooling, and will gain a great deal.

 

– 3—

Last weekend, we watched two older movies, one good and one, so sad.  I had seen The Mouse that Roared ages ago- as kid myself, on TV, and remembered it being funny and screwball and crazy. It’s not. (As I ponder this, I actually think I might have read the book, and that left a positive impression. Maybe?) Peter Sellers is his usual brilliant self, but the movie as a whole is that usual late 50’s/early 60’s awkward comedic lameness.  And good lord, Jean Seberg is the worst. At least it was short.

 

— 4 —

The next night, however, we had better luck with Great Expectations.  My memories held up on that one.

The thing is, with your Star Wars fans, no matter how young they are, Obi-Wan gives you an in with older films, even for the reluctant. Chances are they will be very interested to see Alec Guiness in anything, particularly in a younger incarnation. They watched The Lavender Hill Mob and Kind Hearts and Coronets with that enticement, and so with this one – especially since it was his first film and he is SO YOUNG.

Depending on how everyone feels, we will probably try to get Bridge over the River Kwai in sometime this weekend – that takes a commitment.

— 5 —

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is the Wedding at Cana. To get a head start, consider this, from B16 in 2006

If we take this as our starting-point, we can now also understand the second part of Jesus’ answer: “My hour has not yet come”. Jesus never acts completely alone, and never for the sake of pleasing others. The Father is always the starting-point of his actions, and this is what unites him to Mary, because she wished to make her request in this same unity of will with the Father. And so, surprisingly, after hearing Jesus’ answer, which apparently refuses her request, she can simply say to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Jesus is not a wonder-worker, he does not play games with his power in what is, after all, a private affair. No, he gives a sign, in which he proclaims his hour, the hour of the wedding-feast, the hour of union between God and man. He does not merely “make” wine, but transforms the human wedding-feast into an image of the divine wedding-feast, to which the Father invites us through the Son and in which he gives us every good thing, represented by the abundance of wine. The wedding-feast becomes an image of that moment when Jesus pushed love to the utmost, let his body be rent and thus gave himself to us for ever, having become completely one with us – a marriage between God and man. The hour of the Cross, the hour which is the source of the Sacrament, in which he gives himself really to us in flesh and blood, puts his Body into our hands and our hearts, this is the hour of the wedding feast. Thus a momentary need is resolved in a truly divine manner and the initial request is superabundantly granted. Jesus’ hour has not yet arrived, but in the sign of the water changed into wine, in the sign of the festive gift, he even now anticipates that hour.

Jesus’ “hour” is the Cross; his definitive hour will be his return at the end of time. He continually anticipates also this definitive hour in the Eucharist, in which, even now, he always comes to us. And he does this ever anew through the intercession of his Mother, through the intercession of the Church, which cries out to him in the Eucharistic prayers: “Come, Lord Jesus!”. In the Canon of the Mass, the Church constantly prays for this “hour” to be anticipated, asking that he may come even now and be given to us. And so we want to let ourselves be guided by Mary, by the Mother of Graces of Altötting, by the Mother of all the faithful, towards the “hour” of Jesus. Let us ask him for the gift of a deeper knowledge and understanding of him. And may our reception of him not be reduced to the moment of communion alone. Jesus remains present in the sacred Host and he awaits us constantly. Here in Altötting, the adoration of the Lord in the Eucharist has found a new location in the old treasury. Mary and Jesus go together. Through Mary we want to continue our converse with the Lord and to learn how to receive him better. Holy Mother of God, pray for us, just as at Cana you prayed for the bride and the bridegroom! Guide us towards Jesus – ever anew! Amen!

 

 

 

— 6

Solitaire!

As I mentioned on Instagram, I was shocked and ashamed to discover a few days ago that my younger sons did not know how to play Solitaire.  I’m not sure how this passed them by. They do play actual real games with physical objects – not only video games – but perhaps, considering they don’t spend a lot of time on actual computers, where they might encounter that version of it – it makes some sense.

Anyway,  taught them, and it’s good. It probably won’t last, but it’s been a thing this week for them to feel a bit of boredom, spy their cards, and  just start playing.

"amy welborn"

— 7 —

Hey…Lent begins in less than a month….

Time to order your parish/school materials – even if you want to order some for a group of friends or a class…here you go!

A Stations of the Cross for teens:

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Biblical Way of the Cross for everyone:

For Ave Maria press, we wrote John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross. The current edition is illustrated with paintings by Michael O’Brien.

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There’s also a digital edition in app form.

Reconciled to God – a daily devotional. Also available in an e-book format. Only .99.

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Looking for a book study for a group? How about Matthew 26-28: Jesus’ Life-Giving Death from Loyola. 

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For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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  • Monday. Late start. Which is too bad because I wanted him to wake up before the frost melted away, so we could talk about that. Maybe tomorrow.
  • Prayer: Reading of the day.  I introduced them by reminding him that now that it is Ordinary Time – for the next few weeks at least – the Mass readings will be focused on Jesus’ public ministry. The first readings for daily Mass are beginning with 1 Samuel. So first we read the Gospel and prayed the petitions for Morning Prayer, Lord’s Prayer, etc.
  • Then after prayer proper we talked about the Old Testament.  Reviewed the basic historical content up to Samuel, drilled a bit on listing the books up to 2 Kings. Talked about Pentateuch/Torah, about the scrolls in a synagogue. Then read the passage for the day (1 Sam 1:1-8) with a map open, talking about Shiloh, about how Jerusalem would not be a part of the story until David, etc. Also pivoted back and drilled on the names of the first four apostles.
  • 1 Samuel is my favorite book of the Bible, so even better.
  • When I say “drill” I don’t mean with a pointer in hand, barking out names. I mean just learning by going over it a few times. There.
  • Copywork was Mark 1:16-17 in cursive.
  • Math: workbook pages on multiplication of negative and positive integers in Beast Academy. Four pages of puzzles basically – it’s one of the things I love about BA – puzzles are an integral part of the learning and reinforcement. Like this one. 
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  • It can be frustrating. The puzzles get more difficult pretty quickly, but they are so cannily written that working through them results in clearly superior understanding.
  • History next, but a bit of a break from the politics. We dabbled a bit in art, music and literature of the Revolutionary period. Basically culled from what I pulled together while he was doing his math.  So yes, intense prep.
  • First, music – watched a bit of this video, focusing on “Yankee Doodle.”  It started interrupting and hesitating, so after Yankee Doodle was done, I declared it finished.
  • Then art – this video on Copley, part of a YouTube channel that I think is just great.  Probably do a bit more on this tomorrow.
  • Then Phillis Wheatly – quickly read/summarized some biographical material, snippets from a couple of poems, an account of her meeting with George Washington, and briefly discussed why she falls out of favor with some contemporary critics.
  • At some point, this was interrupted by the request to learn how to do a coin roll over the knuckles.  A video was watched, that was attempted, as well as videos on flicking cards and the “waterfall.”
  • Latin – workbook pages in chapter 19. 
  • We have been doing the Writing and Rhetoric series from Classical Academic Press, and I’ve liked it very much. Because it takes a particular angle, I thought it best to start below grade level to get used to the routine – so we did books 1 & 2 (grades 3-4. He’s 5th) last year . It started to get a little tiresome, so I peaked ahead at the grade 5 material – it’s fine, and not an unreasonable jump at all. So that arrived last week and we started today: Refutation and Confirmation.  He read the introductory material (defining the terms, using the legend of John Henry and Peter Pan as examples) and then we discussed it.  It fit in nicely with a discussion we had sometime last week about suspension of disbelief and how that works in the dramatic arts – and on what basis we can get immersed in a story about a talking pig, rat and a spider who knows how to write and read and then, at some point, come to a point in a story we can’t buy. (Not that I have one in Charlotte’s Web. It’s just something that fascinates me – how can I be watching an animated feature in which literally anything could be made to happen, and then mentally check out when something “unrealistic” happens.
  • So just reading and talking about that today. Writing tomorrow. Back to Johnny Tremain, as well.
  • Then some art – this came through my emailbox today, so we went for it. Chalk pastels are not his favorite, and I absolutely sympathize.  I don’t like the feel of chalk against paper – as is the case with say, dry paper towels rubbing against each other – it’s something I weirdly can’t even think about without a shiver. WHY????  
  • But he put that all aside and had fun, first experimenting and testing, then getting to the actual project. Simple, but good.

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  • Oh, I was going to be all “let’s be cultural” during lunch, so I started playing audio of The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and after 73 seconds he just looked at me in total confusion. Yeah, he had never read it, and the beginning is hard to follow, especially if you’re only listening.
  • So we watched the Lego version. 
  • Timeframe, including prayer and lunch: 10-2.

Dissection stuff arrived over the weekend. Haven’t opened the box or told anyone it’s here yet. Give me a minute.

Reminder why I’m doing this – first as a record for myself.  Secondly, just to have it out there for anyone pondering homeschooling. This is one way to do it. 

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I am finally getting myself together here for Melanie Bettinelli’s linkup on “Learning Notes.”  Melanie is a homeschooling mother of many who writes a very fine blog. Check out the series she’s doing on Shakespeare with kids, for example.   There are innumerable ways and styles of homeschooling, and if you are curious about this growing phenomenon and want to understand its appeal to families, I think Melanie’s blog is a great place to start.  Conversations, creating, exploring with people who love you? …the best kind of education, for sure.

My first foray into this linkup isn’t going to be a day-by-day account this time because I’ve got math on the mind these days.

For a non-mathematician, I think a lot about math, and this blog post has finally spurred me to put down some thoughts on it.

Background:

I come from an academic, humanties-centered household.  There was no mathiness or science or business-type activity to speak of in my parents’ lives or in their parents’ lives. My mother  joked about her wildly contrasting verbal and math scores on the GRE. I did fine in math in high school, took the minimum I needed to in college, and that was it.  I had no opinion of it one way or the other.  I certainly had to work hard and think things through in the higher math (the highest I got was what they called “Advanced Math” in the day – maybe there was a bit of Pre-Calculus in it, and a little trig, but I never even attempted calculus.  I don’t think the school offered it, come to think of it.), but I often had the weird experience of hitting a wall at night when I was doing my homework, then waking up the next morning, saying “Ah-ha!” – my brain evidently having worked it all out when I was sleeping.

As a parent, I’ve had one older kid who needed help in math, but the other two breezed through on their own, doing very well. My second son never studied in high school and made straight A’s, even in Calculus.  Daughter had to study, but still did well, and liked it – “Math is like a puzzle to me, and I love puzzles” is what she’s always said.  And now she’s studying for the LSAT which she was emboldened to do, not just because she took a Civil Rights/Liberties class and really enjoyed doing case analyses, but also because she looked into what the LSAT is and joyfully discovered, “It’s LOGIC!” So.

And then, for the others…. it was time to homeschool.

Math is something that some non-mathy homeschooling parents dread, but I never have, mostly because I picked a program that I found easy and even interesting to work with – from The Art of Problem Solving.  I’ve written about this program before, so I won’t repeat myself.  I’ll just say that Joseph worked through the Pre-Algebra text last year and is making “A’s” in Algebra in 8th grade right now.  He never minded it too much, and neither did I – in fact, in many ways, I found it illuminating.  Plus I love the videos.  There, I admitted it.

Now, I have a theory about teaching.  I actually think that people who are a “natural” at a subject don’t necessarily make the best teachers of that subject.  Think about it – if you have an intuitive grasp of a topic or skill, it might be a challenge for you to communicate the process to someone who doesn’t have a clue.  On the other hand, if you’ve had to work through a process step-by-step and have actually struggled with various aspects of it…you might just be a really effective teacher to the equally clueless.

All that is to not to say that I’m a fabulous math teacher.  But it is to say that I’m not a bad one – at least to my own children –  and I think it’s because I understand their lack of understanding.

Anyway, math is not only on my mind these days, it’s on the mind of many because of Common Core-related issues.  I’ll say straight up that I’m (not surprisingly) opposed to Common Core simply because I’m opposed to all federal standards in educational content, period, without exception and also because I believe that the push for Common Core is primarily profit-driven.  As I’ve said before, no one makes money when teachers are using five-year old textbooks using methods they’re familiar with.  People make money when new textbooks must be written and printed, when workshops on new pedagogies must be paid for, when consultants must be consulted and when – above all – children must be tested.

But what has gotten folks riled up above all is the content of the standards, especially in math.  I saw a bit of this in the text Joseph was using in his old school, and which we used in the first year of homeschooling (because at that point we weren’t sure if he would be returning to school after our fall in Europe…just in case he was, he needed to be on track.) I rather liked the text because it invited the student to look at problems in a number of different ways and introduced various problem-solving strategies, but I could see how it could be confusing.

(My problem, though, with how this is shaking out in schools is this: I think the various strategies should be introduced.  What I don’t think is right is then tying “success” of a child – and by extension, a teacher and a school – to that child’s mastery of all of the strategies.  It’s terribly confusing and really confounds the purpose of introducing various strategies, doesn’t it?)

So now, to the present. With the Art of Problem Solving and the curriculum which my younger son is using from the same group, Beast Academywe are encountering “new” strategies. That is, they are new to us, all of us having been taught more or less “traditional” math, even if it has been 40-45 years apart.

And here’s the thing.

They’re so much better. 

They make sense.  They are, as far as I can tell from my limited perspective, truer reflections of what is going on with the numbers with more explanatory power than anything I was taught, which was mostly about learning rules and formulas and plugging in the numbers and doing the computations, period.

I’m going to start with a simple example.

(Caveat – I’m only going to say this once, but it applies to every example.  You may have learned this stuff during math.  Maybe I was taught it, too.  But I don’t think I was, and if I was, it didn’t stick.)

When my older son started PreAlgebra with AOPS, he re-learned a lot about basic arithmetic operations.  It seemed, at first glance, kind of silly, but it wasn’t because, as we soon discovered, it really helps to understand exactly what these basic operations are.  So take division.  What is division?  Well, division is a few things, I suppose, but one of the things division is is simply multiplying by the reciprocal of a number.   So…20 divided by five is also 20 times one-fifth.  Right? So there’s your definition of division:  Multiplying by the reciprocal.

Now. Flash back to..I don’t know.  Fourth, fifth grade math.  When you were taught how to multiply and divide fractions.  Multiplying: easy.   Just multiply straight across.  But dividing?  Ooooh…tricky.  You had to remember that weird thing you had to do – you had to flip the divisor and multiply by the resulting reciprocal.  I don’t know about you, but I never understood why you did that.  Why do we have to do that?  Who knows? It’s a rule!

But hey….isn’t that what division is? Isn’t that the definition?

"beast academy"So when you have to divide fractions, you multiply by the reciprocal…because that’s what division is.

My point is – this was taught to me as a rule with no theoretical foundation.  I probably would have had an easier time remembering it if I’d been taught the reasoning behind it in this really very simple way.

Properties were another thing.  Every year we’d be taught those blasted properties, and never did any of them except the Commutative (because that’s easy) make sense to me.  I had to relearn it every year, and barely did so, because the properties were presented as one little section in one chapter and then essentially neglected, probably until Algebra.

In these AOPS books, students are taught the properties early on, and they use them..constantly.  Multiplication and Division are taught within the framework of the Distributive property – basically, they are taught to break the numbers apart in order to both more easily mentally compute, but also to understand, once again, the operations from the ground up.  And really, this is something a lot of us do anyway, right?  I know I do, and always have – if I have to compute, say, 78 times 6 in my head, I do so by breaking it up into 70 times 6 plus 8 times 6.  It’s just that I never knew what I was doing.

SO.  Finally.  Back to this blog post – in which the author says that the way kids are taught to do multiplication  – the algorithm (or system) – undercuts their understanding of place value. 

If you want kids who get right answers without thinking, then go ahead and keep focusing on those steps. Griffin gets right answer with the lattice algorithm, and I have every confidence that I can train him to get right answers with the standard algorithm too.

But we should not kid ourselves that we are teaching mathematical thinking along the way. Griffin turned off part of his brain (the part that gets 37 times 2 quickly) in order to follow a set of steps that didn’t make sense to him.

Ding-ding-ding.  As a non-mathematician, I am in total agreement.

So now back to my issue.  Have you ever tried to explain 2 and 3 (and more) digit multiplication to a kid?  And what “carrying the ones” means?  And keep any sense of place value?  I mean..try it.  Right now.   Explain why you do those things to an imaginary (or real) nine year old.

It works, sure. You get the right answer.  And there’s a reason it works.  But now….let me tell you about how Michael is learning multiplication of 2, 3 and more digit numbers..  It may not be new or radical to you…perhaps it’s being incorporated in some of the other new math materials out there.   But it’s new to me, and I’ll admit when he first started, I got nervous.  I was thinking, “Wait. This isn’t the way I was taught.  I mean, I don’t really understand the way I was taught..but this is different! I don’t think it’s what they’re doing in regular school.  WILL HE BE AN OUTCAST?”

Well, not really on that last part. So let’s go to the photos:

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That’s how I learned it.  You, too, probably.  Again, imagine explaining to a kid why you carry the 1 and then the 3 and why you put a zero in the units place on that second line. Try.

Now here how Michael’s learning.

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Do you see? It’s the Distributive property, in action.

In case you  don’t – it’s (3X5) + (3X40) + (70 X 5) + (70 X 40). It’s an accurate, clearly laid-out expression of what is happening in the act of “multiplying” these numbers.

The beauty of it is that if you can do part of it your head –  if you know that 45 X 3 is 135 right off the bat – feel free to just put it down that way. Doesn’t mess anything up.

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This makes so much more sense.  To me, a non-math person. Yes, it takes up a bit more space on the paper, but it preserves the sense of what the numbers are and what is going on in the act of multiplication.  In other words, it’s not just a “rule” but a clear process.

Has this been the dullest blog post ever on my blog(s)?  Probably.  But at least I got it out of my system.

The examples of “Common Core” math that I have seen do, indeed seem unnecessarily complicated and frankly convoluted.  I think the intention is to encourage a deeper “number sense,” but they end up confusing instead.  My point is that what I have encountered in the AOPS programs has certainly been new to me, but as not-mathy person I haven’t found them confusing at all,but rather illuminating and quite interesting.  There is a way of teaching a way of doing math that is a more accurate expression of what is going on and which doesn’t seem so random, especially to the non-mathy person. The tragedy is that a worthy end is being massively screwed up and, as a consequence, raising suspicions against any attempt to develop better ways to teach our children math, better ways that are out there and that are not crazy or needlessly confusing – in fact, are the opposite.

Below are some of 9-year old Michael’s math pages from last week. You’ll probably have to click on them to get a better view.

"amy welborn"This was the first workbook page on which he had to work with this new algorithm.  Robots optional.

DSCN4447On this page, he was given just a few numbers of each problem and had to work out the rest.  So, for example in #144, he would have to work out what do you multiply 6 by that gives you a number with 8 in the units digit..well, it could be 3 or it could be 8..so you have to go from there and figure it out.  We left the last one to do as review later.

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He started exponents late last week.  On this page he had to work out where to put parentheses so the equation would work.  If it worked without parentheses, circle it.  (Obviously it was also an exercise in understanding Order of Operations.)

The way that Beast Academy is planned (they haven’t finished all the books yet…) the student will be ready for Pre-Algebra after competing level 5 (this is 4C, with one more to go in the 4th level) – I had my doubts when I heard that, but as we go on…I can see it.  Michael is going to have a completely different, deeper understanding of math than any of his siblings..and it will be better, I have no doubt.

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