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Posts Tagged ‘curriculum’


Hi! I have been away from my blog for far too long, I know. We have been busy, busy, busy (and I am lazy). Dana is currently starting a series of in-depth retesting and re-evaluation at Children’s Hospital in Columbus. We are still homeschooling and still struggling with his severe dysgraphia, which I worry will seriously impact any future academic study success. I am hoping they can help with that.

As we start into his high school years, I find myself balancing our plans between giving him a curriculum that will satisfy a college or technical school (should he decide to go) and providing him with the knowledge and skills that I know will be critical to him for the rest of his life. For some reason, thorough grounding in nutrition (even general health), sex education, and financial literacy seem to receive, at best, only a minor nod in high school requirements. Not to mention other life skills, like shopping, cleaning, etc.. To me, these are possibly the most critically important things for him to learn. Thankfully, since we homeschool, we can cover those. The problem is in finding material to use.

Each year I research online to hopefully identify text books and material that best meets his needs, interests and abilities. When I purchase regular textbooks, I buy them used on eBay or Amazon, usually. In some cases, though, there is just nothing available, or what is available is of low quality or is otherwise unsuitable, or needs to be supplemented. Fortunately, I have found material that is either low cost or free that we are going to try. In some cases, it is in pdf format and must either be used on the computer or Kindle, or be printed out and put in a notebook or bound some way. In some cases, you can actually receive free printed material through the mail and not even pay shipping! In some cases, books are available free as e-books. I will cite some examples which we will be using at some point in the next 4 years.

FREE BOOKS
Financial Literacy: Along with some little books from Bluestocking Press, that seem impressive, we will use some paper back books in a series called “Building Your Future” from The Actuarial Foundation. These 4 award-winning educational books, accompanied by teacher’s guides, are available free on request from the Actuarial Foundation.
(I also purchased “Life Prep for homeschooled teenagers” by Barbara Frank, on Amazon. This book covers a lot of basic skills, including financial)

FREE E-BOOKS
Sex Education:
(Acknowledging the fact that many do not approve of too detailed sex education,(a mistake in my opinion), I will caution you to check the content of these books before sharing them. Since they are free, this is easy to do.)
These books are available in several formats from CK12. I downloaded them to my Kindle, but also have the teacher guides in my computer in pdf format in case I want to print them, or portions of them. Titles include: “Your Changing Body”, “Human Biology- Sexuality”, “Human Biology-Reproduction.” These were written for middle school to high school ages.
Science and More: CK12 also has many more text books, particularly in the sciences, some of which we will likely use. Usually, teacher guides are also available, and sometimes student workbooks can be downloaded. They are all free.

FREE TEXT BOOKS IN PDF FORMAT
Physics – Electricity:
Due to Dana’s strong focus on computers and electricity, we will probably go a bit further than most in his study of those areas. I located a site where you can download free open-source textbooks written by an instructor who was disappointed in the textbooks available for his students, so wrote his own. They are for upper high school or beginning college level. Visit “Lessons in Electric Circuits” to download.
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There is a strong move toward providing college students with downloadable, free textbooks in e-book format. Sometimes these may also be suitable for upper level and/or advanced high school students as well. Check out “Open Access Textbooks“.

I have only scratched the surface here, I am sure. If you have a free resource for high school students, please post a comment to tell us about it!

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“My child hates lessons!” “My child can’t write (hates math, can’t read, all of the above)!” “Homeschool is a constant battle.” “I am frustrated and worried to the point of tears.”

I am seeing many posts like this on the e-mail lists I belong to lately. I read them and think, “Yes, been there, done that.” I am so glad that things are changing for us lately. But can I tell these parents how to change things for their student? Maybe not. Each child is different. Yours may or may not have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum or some other learning difference. Each parent/grandparent is different,too. But I can share what is working for us, and I can try to provide some hope. I hope something I say here will at least let you know that you are not a bad parent or a poor homeschooler.

First, I want to make three confessions: 1. It took us a long time to get this far. 2. It may all change for the worse tomorrow. We can only take it a day at a time. 3. Not everyday is a good day. Some days still s…!

Tip number one is that it takes more than a schedule and the right curriculum to turn things around. For my 11 year-old boy it took the right diagnosis and medication at the right dosage to help him control his behavior and thinking ability. It also helps that he has a case manager/ counselor who visits him for an hour once a week. We also use the Total Transformation approach with him (it works). Sometimes there are therapies or therapeutic programs you can use that will help your child.

Next, my boy needs activities in and outside the home, including play dates at least once a week, when possible. Occasional classes and field trips provide variety, enrich his learning, spark interests, and give him a chance to interact with others outside the home, both authority figures and peers.

 Exercise does a lot to help him with self-discipline and focus, as well as being good for his health. In warm weather he loves swimming and he has year-round karate classes twice weekly, with daily practice. He is very proud that he is so close to attaining his junior black belt. Karate also teaches him many positive attitudes like respect, responsibility, self-control, and confidence.

Consistency in discipline, schedule, and expectations is the hardest for me to provide. But I am getting better at it. Some days I feel lazy, too. Having him help make what few rules we have, helps, too.

Readiness and interest are very crucial to learning and willingness to learn! Probably my boy’s change in attitude and effort on lessons is due in large part to changes he is going through naturally as he approaches adolescence. Focusing on and valuing what he truly wants to learn about is also very important. Another blogger quotes, “Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.” ~ Katrina Gutleben

Finally, finding out how he learns best (learning style) and which materials really work for him took a long time, but I think we are there! The curriculum that I outlined in my blog post titled “Our New Year” seems to be a good match for him – at last! We are still following it and haven’t dropped a thing, so far. We are getting ready to add back in lessons on programming in Visual Basic. I am very pleased with the materials we are using because he likes them and is learning willingly (for the most part), but as they say, “Your mileage may vary.”. For details see “Our New Year,” If you are an unschooler, and it is working, ignore this. We definitely do not do “school at home,” though, and he still likes for me to be beside him or working with him.

Schedule:  We spend from 2 to 3 hours daily, mostly 5 days a week on lessons or learning activities. Because we are both natural night owls, we start late, and sometimes wait until afternoon, when he seems to do better. I also remind him to practice karate daily. He is asked to help with a few basic chores or lend a hand now and then. Otherwise, he is free to play Roblox, Algodoo, etc., build with Lego robotics, mess around with electronics, or whatever he is currently interested in. He also watches a few cartoons on TV and plays games on his 3DS. Since many of these activities are also educational and he especially loves them, we have no real limits on them, except to get to bed reasonably on time, where I still read to him nightly.

As you can see, I take what Tracey on the “All Kinds of Learners” list calls a bottom-up approach. In other words, there are fundamental needs that must be addressed first before curriculum matters at all. If they are not, even the best materials will not work, the child will not learn and no one will be happy. I believe in working with the whole child as an individual with individual needs. I don’t care what the schools or even the psychologists/psychiatrists say, the child is the only expert on him/herself.

Disclaimer: I speak as a grandmother raising one particular child with mild Aspergers. I have learned from many other homeschoolers and have researched, read and tried many things. This is where I am now, but my advice might be different a year from now (or even next week!). Who knows? If what I say helps you, that is great. If it doesn’t, feel free to ignore it or leave contradictory comments. One of the best things about being homeschoolers is that we are constantly learning, expanding our understanding, reshaping our philosophy, and changing our behavior. And remember, children are fortunately quite resilient! Challenging and exciting, isn’t it?

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Our New Year


I have been very lazy about adding new posts here during the summer, but we are still here and ready to start a new year of homeschooling. In fact, we have already started sliding into it. By that I mean, we started , but are holding off on some things and we have some days without lessons due to appointments and activities. But so far, so good!

Each year since I started this blog I have listed our chosen course of study and some of the materials we planned to use. Note that I said “planned to use” because we often change when things don’t go well or we find something better. So here is our “planned” curriculum for this year for my 11 year old Aspie. Maybe it will give you some ideas.

Language Arts

           Reading: “Time 4 Learning” online

           Grammar: “Junior Analytical Grammar”, “Daily Paragraph Editing”

          Spelling: “All About Spelling”

          Writing: “Student Writing Intensive A”  from the Institute for Excellence in Writing

Science and Health

          Adolescent development and health, human reproduction: “Boy’s Guide to Becoming a Teen”,”Boy’s Body Book”, “Science Explorer: Human Biology and Health” and more

          The Brain: several books on the brain including “Understanding Your Brain” from Usborne, “Brain Surgery for Beginners”, and 2 by Robert Winston: “What Goes on in My Head” and “What Makes Me, Me” as well as some information on brain disorders.

          Evolution: “Evolution Revolution” from DK, DK Eyewitness Book “Evolution”, “Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be” by Daniel Loxton, and “Have a Nice DNA” by Fran Balkwill & Mic Ralph.

American History and Ohio History

       “A History of US” by Joy Hakim, “The Constitution and You” “We the People: the Citizens & the Constitution”, books on Ohio history and many supplementary books, including children’s historical novels, plus videos, games and “Kreative Komix Comic Book Maker, U.S. History” (should be great for right-brained kids)

Math

       Pre-pre-algebra with “Hands on Equations”  (We started during the summer and are now into Level 2 of 3 levels and doing great. I highly recommend it for visual, hands-on learners. It really helps transition from the concrete to the abstract.)

       Fractions with “JUMP Math”

     “Mastering Essential Math Skills Book One”, and “Math on the Level”

Philosophy

       “Philosophy for Kids” by David A. White, Ph.D., and “10 Minute Life Lessons For Kids” by Jamie Miller

Phys ed continues to be primarily karate, and as long as the weather holds out, swimming. Art and Music we sort of “play by ear” with multiple resources.

I will try to get back to this post to add links, so check back later on, or do your own Google search if you want to check out anything.

Have a great year!

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It looks like Lua programming is not a good fit for Dana at this time. He needs an approach that allows him to learn by doing from the beginning more than the Lua tutorial allows. Or maybe it is because he doesn’t relate well to an online tutorial that has him linking to several other pages he has to become familiar with before he can actually do the programming. Anyway, I have done a lot of looking and think I have found what he needs.

Phrogram
is a language and program that was originally designed to teach kids ages 10-14, but it works so well that it is even being taught in colleges and universities.

The book on Amazon,”Phrogram Programming for the Absolute Beginner,” says near the beginning, “…Learning how to program by doing is key to becoming a good programmer and learning how to program by creating games just makes the whole process a lot of fun. Since Phrogram is specifically designed as a learning language that emphasizes graphics, animation, and game development, this book’s approach to learning Phrogram programming makes for a perfect match.”

A review on the book by the mother of a boy much like Dana, who also has Aspergers, says it works great for him. Each chapter ends by having the learner create a simple game. They say it also carries over quite well when the student is ready to move on to more complex languages, like C++, etc. This is not true of the drag and drop languages, some of which Dana has done, like Robolab and Scratch. The program you use in the computer is fairly cheap, too, and they give you a free 30 day trial, which is great.

He has also decided that he is not ready to “fly solo,” and still wants me beside him while he learns. Even when he is working on his own, he likes to have me near by to watch and so he can check with me. He says it is mostly because he wants me to learn along with him, and this may be true. He constantly “plays teacher” by asking me questions about what he is doing, even when he is playing games.

In any case, after doing the first simple programming lesson in the book, he decided to explore Phrogram a bit by running some samples provided. He was very impressed by finding one that allows you to control a spaceship in a “3-D” space environment. The idea that he can learn to write the programming for games like that excites him.

Once again, we learn that Dana’s learning style is uniquely his own and he fits no better in the regular unschooling box than he does into traditional schooling! We’ll see how it goes.

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I just read the most amazing valedictory address I have ever seen! Rather than recapitulate it here, I will give you the link to read it for yourself. It was given this year by an amazingly wise young lady, Erica Goldson, who recognized that the difference between herself and the other students in her class was that she had learned to follow the rules and learn for the tests better than the others, at the cost of not exercising her creativity and pursuing her own personal learning interests. She does not believe that this is the way education should be and expresses it most eloquently.

It reminds me of a college student I once taught. For a while, I taught an art education class at a fairly well known university. The course was required for education majors and the artistic abilities and interests varied greatly. Naturally, the course included both some understanding and “doing of art” and some philosophy of art education as well as different models of teaching. While one or two students were fair in creating art,  nearly none excelled at thinking about how to teach and how to encourage creativity. One student actually asked me what I wanted them to say when asked to write his own opinion about two very different models of teaching.

 There was one exception. One young lady, who was not knowledgeable nor talented in creating art, was truly exceptional at independent thinking. She greeted each art project assignment with enthusiasm as a challenging and fun assignment. She shared that enthusiasm with her classmates and sought out partners to work with her on grand projects which she envisioned. But more than that, she tended to challenge me often on statements of “fact” and opinions I might express in class. She interrupted with questions frequently, which, of course, threw me off my planned presentation and made ME think!

One day, I showed up for class a bit early and found the classroom door still locked. She also came early that day, so I took the opportunity to talk with her privately. I began by saying, “Do you know how you are always questioning me in class?” I saw her take a step back and take on a worried, almost frightened expression, so I hurried on to explain that it was a very good thing and that she should always do that in all her classes, although some instructors might not appreciate it. I told her that her enthusiasm and ability to think independently would make her an excellent teacher, especially if she could pass that on to her students.

Later, I remembered that a favorite English professor of mine had held a similar conversation with me in my freshman year at college. He said that most of the other students were like sheep. They blindly followed where he led, accepted every thing he said, and wrote down every word he uttered in case it showed up on a test. He said that he was tempted sometimes to make some outrageous and off-topic statement to see if they unquestioningly wrote it down. I, on the other hand, often challenged him, and even argued with him over some points. My fellow students thought I was crazy to disagree with the instructor and I became self concious about being the only one who spoke up, so I stopped doing it so much. That was why he talked to me about it, to encourage me to continue being a model of independent thought. Indeed, most students give no thought at all to what they are spoon-fed. They simply hear, accept, and try to memorize it for the next test.

That is exactly what Erica spoke about in her valedictorian speech, “Here I Stand”. Bravo, Erica!

As homeschoolers we have the freedom to break this pattern. But not if we accept any book or text at face value and teach our children to never question, simply memorize the facts and only do things the way they are taught. If we do “school at home” (following some out-of-the-box curriculum verbatim) we indoctrinate and will get the same sheep. Whether you unschool or follow some middle of the road model (a little unschool, a little traditional, a lot of interest led learning), as I do, you can encourage and enjoy flexibility, creativity and critical thinking (as opposed to acceptance and memorization) and involve your children in decision making about how and what they learn.

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If you are like me, looking at the many free share curriculum ideas online is mostly bo-r-i-n-g! And I say that as a former public school teacher. I do love some of the great free books with facts, ideas, activities and even neat illustrations and worksheets. I especially like being able to select from them what I want to use.

One good one that I found a long time ago and forgot about until recently being reminded of it by another homeschooler on the All Kinds of Learners list is from the American Chemical Society. This 470 page book in pdf format is called “Inquiry in Action: Investigating Matter Through Inquiry.” It is designed to be used with students in grades 3-8 as a resource for guided, inquiry-based activities to supplement whatever physical science curriculum you follow. Photocopying is strongly encouraged!

Activities include investigating scientific questions with M & Ms, investigating physical properties and physical changes in solids with crystals, dissolving solids, liquids and gases, chemical change, and investigating density. The experiments/activities are all simple, safe, and fun, using items available in the home. Key concepts for students are provided, along with chemistry concepts for teachers.

I plan to use some of these next fall when we study chemistry. To download the book, go here. Did I tell you, the best part is,  it is FREE!

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