31 March 2017

Day 37 / 106 - #30DayMathChallenge

Hey friend ...

Will you join me in a math challenge?  Not a challenge for your children.  A challenge for you.

You are probably no stranger to the 30-Day-Challenge world.  If you search 30-Day-Challenges, you will find a plethora.  Nutrition, fitness, mindset, organizing, budgeting, reading, photography, crafts.   The list continues.

Over the past several months, I have been diligently searching for a challenge that includes higher-level math.  I have yet to locate one.  What they say is true -- Mom!  Please don't make me do this.  I will never use Algebra again.

I often tell other homeschoolers that homeschooling needs to be treated like a job.  Naturally, it is a job with a very flexible schedule, but some days, in order to get the work done, a homeschooler needs to clock in and complete her necessary responsibilities.  Distractions need to be left at home.  Dishes (ignore them!) Facebook (log out!) phone calls (decline!) cannot be completed at work, and sometimes they cannot be completed during a home educating day.  Save the distractions for when you clock out!

Also, if an employee wants to keep her job, and do it even a little bit well, she needs to be willing to learn new responsibilities and duties.  The accounting software is unfamiliar and overwhelming on day one.  But with time, training, and learning, the software is mastered.  Using it might even become enjoyable.   With much confidence, this employee might even start training others.

I have mentioned this before, but I will say it again ... This year my children and I have focused on math.  So. Much. Math.  Let me digress by saying, I think it's totally acceptable for a homeschooler to outsource some of their math journey at the higher levels.  Whether it be via video curriculum, private tutor, or an outside class, there are experts in this field that can and will teach your children this subject.  That is ok.  But, I think if a homeschooler wants to do the job, and do the job well, she will need to revisit higher-level math.

This year, I have learned that I don't need to know all the math.  But I do need to know some of it.

I have an average mathematics back ground.  I took math in high school because I had to.  I took exactly one math course in college because that was all I was required to take.  Because I have committed myself to learning math and helping my children master math, I'm amazed at how much I've relearned and rediscovered in a matter of months.  In fact, like most subjects, I wish I could go back and retake it!

So, this brings me to my challenge.  In the challenge-world, we witness better results if someone has done a little bit of fitness everyday, as opposed to skipping 29 days of working out, and cramming it all in on day 30.  Same with dieting.  We know that the house stays organized if we make it a priority to tidy a few minutes a day, rather than being forced to invest an entire weekend just to sort through the mail.  We improve in photography, crafting, reading, and more if we commit to it daily.

Will you join me in completing one "higher-level" math problem a day?  I'm putting "higher-level" in quotes because my problems range from 7th grade math to Algebra II.   I've spent most of my spare time this year solving math problems.  I know that's not a hobby that sounds delightful to most people, but I have come to truly enjoy it.  I've unearthed a few that I think will challenge your mind and build your confidence.  A little bit everyday goes a long way.

I'm planning on posting one problem to Instagram each morning in April, along with a teaser one for this post.  (Wish me luck.  This requires serious organization on my part!)  At some point during the day, I will also post the answer.  In the future, I will write an entire post on how valuable it is to give your children the answer guide while learning math.  Each problem will take you less than a few minutes to solve.  I am confident that you will build your math confidence.  If you have questions, let me know.  If I can't answer you questions, I will default to my husband and/or my son.

My Instagram can be found here.  I will be using the hashtag: #30daymathchallenge.  Tag away if you have any a-ha moments.

I also want to add that if you aren't a homeschooler (and you've read this far, kudos to you!) this challenge is still for you.  We model learning to our children regardless of the specific educational path that we're on.  Plus, you might actually uncover a few tricks to help your children if they have homework questions.

I'm anticipating being smarter with you at the end of April!  Let's math together.  Here is today's problem:

28 March 2017

Day 36 / 106 - Code Breakers

Over the past year, I've been introduced to Mindware's Code Breakers.  These are my latest, greatest math finds.  The puzzles combine math practice and logical thinking all with bright colors.  Win!  I've used them to introduce advanced Algebra concepts to my children, and students in my math classes, in a simple, understandable manner.

There is a Level A and a Level B book.  Each book contains 100 puzzles, but unfortunately I have found the books difficult to purchase lately.  Occasionally they will pop up on Amazon, so keep searching if you're interested.  (Or, if you know me well, perhaps I'll make you a copy.)

26 March 2017

Day 35 / 106 - Easy Grammar 9

This year, my children and I (along with my Grammar class at the Y) are learning from Easy Grammar's Grade 9 text.  I have come to really enjoy this book.

Easy Grammar is set up in a daily format, and each lesson has five components.  However, it takes a student less than ten minutes to complete each lesson.  Concepts are introduced, expanded, and reviewed throughout the text.  I keep reminding the students (and their parents) that a little grammar at the high school level can go a long way.

Specifically, I like this book for two main reasons.  First, many of the grammar concept exercises are similar to the Writing and Language questions on the SAT.  Every time I come across a question in the book that is similar to a question on a test, I make sure students note that in their book.  Usually, these questions have something to do with subject-verb agreement or pronoun-antecedent agreement.

Second, the final component of each day is sentence combining.  Students take the information provided in a few short sentences and combine that information into one excellent sentence.  It's like a daily IEW drill.  Students need to really think through independent and dependent clauses, as well as phrases, to create excellent sentences.

If you are looking for simple grammar instruction at the high school level, I would definitely recommend this text.

Day 34 / 106 - Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire

In our Middle Ages History class, we studied Charlemagne on week 9.  We're now on week 23.  It's difficult to post about something that happened over three months ago, but I'm committed to at least documenting this journey in case I ever want to facilitate the class again.

Charlemagne became King of the Franks when he was only 26 years old.  He was an able administrator which is why is the empire expanded under his reign.  He served as inspiration for such leaders as Bonaparte and Hitler who envisioned ruling a unified Europe.

In class, we defined Charlemagne asCharlemagne was a Frankish King who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor of Europe in 800 AD.  He desired advancement in Christianity and education.

Some notable hashtags:
#lowercase (His educational reforms during the Carolingian Renaissance introduced the lower case alphabet that we have today.)
#spellmyname (Charlemagne could read, but not write.  His hands were too battered from wars.)

25 March 2017

Day 33 / 106 - SAT/ACT Preparation

Over the past six months, I have spent quite a bit of my spare time taking SAT and ACT practice tests.  Crazy, right?  I know.  (Secretly, I've come to really enjoy it.)  As a result, I have begun to alter how I educate my children, especially my son, as we prepare for these tests in the near future.  In all my research and studying, I have come away with one defining truth:

How well my children are prepared for these tests can significantly impact their future.

I must digress by saying if you know me, you already know that I have NEVER been one who teaches to a test.  In fact, I am almost certain that, on one hand, you can count the amount of tests that both my children (combined) have ever taken.  I believe today's modern tests are not at all an indicator of my children's learning, development, or education.

I also don't believe that in today's day and age it is imperative for all students to attend college.  Job opportunities and readiness exist in the workplace, not on the college campus.  Most degrees are obsolete before they're even earned, and homeschoolers, especially, have learned how to educate themselves in a fraction of the time needed to earn one.  Plus, college is ridiculously expensive.  That brings me back to my defining truth:

Preparation for these tests is a stewardship issue.  

If your children are planning on attending college, how well they perform on one or both of these tests can significantly impact their future.  Specifically, how much it will cost them.

The majority of homeschoolers I know (my family included) are single-income families.  It takes work, effort, and much budgeting to live on one income.  Most months are about making ends meet, not saving for college for multiple children.  That's the reality.

My husband and I spent most of our twenties paying off his undergraduate student loans.  About ten years ago, he went back to school to earn his MBA.  We borrowed a small fraction of what his degree cost (very small, I must add), yet it will take most all of our forties to pay off this loan.  That is even with the added income that comes from having an MBA.

We are committed to homeschooling our children because we long for them to have different opportunities, experiences, and futures than ours.  Naturally, we don't want to saddle them with debt for the better part of their adult lives.  A few additional points on one of these tests can significantly impact their future.  It's a stewardship issue.

As I mentioned above, this year I have altered my son's schooling so that he can spend adequate time beginning to prep for these tests.  My last post did share how he has ample time to spare.  There are differences between these tests and the types of questions asked on each.  Hopefully, I will post more in depth about the tests at a later date.  Until then, here are two changes we've made this school year.

1.  Math

We do math.  And more math.  And even more math.  In fact, I mentioned this a few weeks ago because our primary focus this year has been math.  I have made sure that his schedule is light in other areas, so that he can spend significant time each day learning and mastering math concepts.  It is important to note that I have needed to relearn higher level math alongside him.

It is difficult to prep for either of these tests if a student has not already learned the higher math necessary for the tests.

The other day, in passing, my son started a conversation with me about factoring quadratic trinomials.  He spoke with such ease about the topic, you would have thought he was sharing about a simple cat picture on the Internet.  I am excited for his growing confidence in the subject.

2.  Reading Advanced Documents Other Than Books

This one does hurt a little because truthfully the best part of homeschooling is all the great books you get to read (or re-read) with your children.  Let me take two seconds to again say: when your children are young, stop all that you're doing and instead enjoy reading books.  All the books.  Unfortunately, the day will come when you will no longer be reading all the great books, all the time.

On the SAT specifically, only one of the nine passages a student will read will come from classic literature.  The other eight passages will be science passages, economic selections, excerpts from U.S. founding documents or global conversation speeches, social science selections, articles on major career fields, and more.  The student will need to read passages, interpret informational graphics, answer questions about the content, as well as find mistakes and correct mistakes in these passages.

This year, we have assigned our son countless articles and essays from varying sources (newspapers, journals, magazines, etc.) After reading, our son has either summed up for us the passage, or answered a series of questions on the topic, compliments of my husband.  I must note that my husband has taken lead on these assignments which has helped me tremendously.

20 March 2017

Day 32 / 106 - "Why Do You Still Do This?"

When it comes to educational opportunities for children, Charlotte, North Carolina is an incredibly unique city.  There is a large homeschool population here.  However, in my 21 months of Charlotte residency, I have discovered that most south Charlotte homeschoolers educate their children at home for only a short period of time before taking advantage of one of these opportunities.  The amount of educational opportunities seems to be both a blessing and a curse.  It is wonderful to know that your student can learn from a creative writing expert at one institution, a math expert at another location, and a foreign language educator at a third.   But, the schedule-juggling, the coursework taught independently of other subjects, and the siblings farmed out to three different locations on three different days of the week, leaves many home educators feeling tired, overwhelmed, and confused about the future.

Because of my relatively new position at the YMCA, I have had more conversations than ever before with new and/or potential homeschoolers.  Imagine their surprise when I communicate that we're wrapping up our eighth year of homeschooling.  They are shocked when they hear that I am homeschooling teens.  Even more astonishment comes when I reply to the question: "What are you planning on doing next year?" with "The same thing we've done for the past eight."

Naturally, the follow up question is usually:

Why do you still do this?

Hundreds of reasons!  Because my kids build snow forts and sleep in them!  Because my daughter taught herself how to spell by teaching herself sign language!  Because we write on the windows!  Because we love playing math games!  Because my son builds medieval weapons out of duct tape!  Because we're always learning!  [Of course the list goes on ... and on ... and on ... with at least 100 notable reasons for the past six years if you scroll back through this blog.]

Since no one really has the time to listen to me ramble on about all we've accomplished on this journey, I've summed up hundreds of reasons into just three.  It makes for better conversation.

1.  Time

In the past century in our country we have fine-tuned most inventions and activities so that everything we do can be done quicker, more simply, and better.  Meals.  Travel.  The work day.  Technology.  Even exercise.  Today a workout can be done in half the amount of time with the twice the results.  This concept is true in most all areas of life, except modern education.

Today, the school days have become longer, the school years have become longer, the amount of homework has become greater, and the expectation for time spent in outside tutoring boggles me.  If we have simplified all areas of life, why then are children expected to spend so many hours of their lives schooling?  My children's time (and mine) is worth far more than a schedule dictated by an academic administrator.  Their time is precious, and I will do everything in my power to protect it.

Over the past eight years, my children have had the time to: learn, explore, create, read, imagine, make music, draw, play, enjoy, make memories, relax, experience nature, develop outside interests, sleep, and (most importantly) be children.  

Time is what I value most, yet I know it is the concept that overwhelms most new homeschoolers.  I hear:  "It takes us one hour a day.  Then they follow me around the house making messes and arguing."

My response to this is the the same I give a mother of toddlers battling diapers, pacifiers, and sippy-cups.  This too shall pass.  It is only for a season.  In a blink they become teenagers, and surprisingly will learn how to clean and how to make peace.  Plus, because you provided them with time to learn when they were young, they will now make you dinner, fix major appliances when your husband is unavailable, mow the lawn, finish their laundry, hem your pants, and more!

2.  Individualized Goal Setting

One of the reasons we began homeschooling was to allow our children the freedom to move at an unfettered pace.  This goal still stands and watching it unfold during the teenage years is quite pleasurable.

Because my children are not micromanaged during the school day, (I believe) this allows them the freedom, the motivation, and the time to set their own goals and work towards accomplishing them.  Sometimes their goals are school-related (I would like to finish Algebra II before I take the PSAT) and sometimes their goals are related to the activities they love (I would like to attend a ballet intensive next summer ... I would like to run a 5-minute mile this track season).  Sometimes their goals are personal (I need to earn more money, so I can buy a new phone).  This plays out in home education because their goals and their learning are one and the same.  It's a beautiful thing.

We naturally learn about things we are interested in.  We set goals based on our interests.  Learning happens as we achieve our goals.

I could also label this reason as Watching My Teens Embrace Adulthood.  Allowing our children to have a say in what they learn and when they learn it has always happened throughout our homeschooling journey.  Because of this, as they age, we have been able to treat them more like adults.  In fact, I believe that they are already better functioning adults than I was well into my twenties.

3.  I Kinda Like My Kids

And, I'm pretty sure they still kinda like me.  I don't mind being around them all day, every day.  In fact, it's enjoyable.  So is the journey.  Sometimes the journey isn't always about the destination -- it's about the people you're with along the way.

The successes, the struggles, the a-ha moments, the discoveries, the fun, the learning, and the work is shared among us.  We are a team.  I couldn't imagine their education any other way.

How about you, friends?  What are the top three reasons you are still on this journey?

12 March 2017

Day 31 / 106 - February (and before) Happens At The Table

I am still trying to figure out if I can homeschool, work, tend to my children's increasingly busy schedules, and maintain a blog.  I'll keep you posted.  I had intended to pen this post almost two weeks ago. Better late than never, I guess.

I rarely use a calendar.  However, I knew that our weekends in 2017 were full.  In January, I created a weekend only calendar on a whiteboard.  It has definitely helped our sanity. (You should see that whiteboard now!)   What's funny is the entire reason I knew I needed to get organized was for this very weekend, March 10th - 12th.  I am writing this post from the lobby of the Myrtle Beach Marriott (it's 38 degrees here by the way) because my daughter is attending a Hollywood Vibe dance convention/competition.  It's the third weekend in a row that we've traveled for dance.  Yesterday, my husband and son spent 12 hours at UNC Charlotte for my son's regional Science Olympiad tournament.  I have known all along that if we could make it through this very weekend, the rest of the spring would be smooth sailing.  I think it's the first time ever that I've anticipated a Monday morning.

Science Olympiad took over our table for a few weeks.  It really was an incredible experience.  I plan to (hopefully) post more about it. 

I posted a few weeks ago about Math.  Math has been our main focus this year.  We have done more math than ever before.  It is definitely paying off.  

And finally, we have eaten once or twice around our table.  The picture below was from Super Bowl Sunday.  

We're looking forward to ushering in spring.  #LifeHappensAtTheTable