So with goals set and curriculums chosen it was time to tackle the administration part of this beast. Yes, in case you are wondering, I’m about to over-complicate this thing. In my defense, you’ll recall in the end, I blamed the public school administration for the sad state that is our current system, so this part was important to me. Besides, I’m a computer person so of course, I’m going to look to computers and software to save the day.
Communication. That is the key to good administration. Even with a massively smaller audience, we do still have to communicate. My wife and I have to communicate to stay in sync. We need to communicate with our kids to make sure they understand what our goals are and we understand when they need help. We are also still farming out some of the instruction so we need to stay in communication with teachers, band directors, archery instructors, etc. Finally, since we chose the option of a portfolio review, we need to save everything for an end of year presentation.
As it turns out, there are a great many ways to fumble the communication and not all of them were so obviously predictable. When it comes right down to it, our problem was choosing a buffet style approach to homeschooling, rather than choosing a single method to deliver all or most of the education. Because of this, we have to coordinate things. Imagine my surprise when I realized answering the simple question “What do I need to do this week?” was not so easy. We knew that some sort of calendar, whiteboard or something would be necessary. What we did not realize was how difficult it would be to pull it all together.
One of the nice things about purchasing a curriculum, or using online resources, is they come with a plan. That plan has a pace, not just an order. From that you get a syllabus. In public schools (or college) you know what to do and when it is due based on the calendar week. So, in week twelve, you look at the syllabus for week twelve for all of your classes and you plan your week. But what happens if you start Math first, just to get your homeschool “feet wet” and then a few weeks later, you start your FLVS classes, only you have to schedule an interview with your teacher before you can actually start, so you don’t really start that week? Even so, only four of your teachers get back to you that first week, another the second week and the last is actually part of the County Virtual School, not the Florida Virtual School and they start on the same schedule as the public schools, so you can’t even start that one for another couple weeks, and then someone forgets to put your son in the class so he starts two weeks late. So now, you are on week eight in one syllabus, week five for four others, week four for another and week one for the last (even though it should be week three, so you are already behind…) and a couple others you had in mind aren’t even started yet. On top of that, you realize the syllabus and pace chart is not actually what you want because that says when everything is due and what your kids are really asking is what they should be doING right now.
At this point, the tool, Google Calendar, whiteboard, sticky notes, whatever doesn’t matter. The problem is the “administration” was having trouble keeping things straight. Who didn’t see that breakfast full of irony coming? We needed a rosetta stone for our calendar. We needed a way to translate back and forth from our various syllabi to the current week and we needed a way to capture our work and store it. In theory, simply printing it out and putting it in a file cabinet would be the simplest and most obvious thing to do. Unfortunately, loose papers suffer horribly in our house. They always have. No matter how much care we take with them, some will go missing. We had a choice of fighting this ever present, daily reality, or admitting our limitations and realizing a paper record was not likely our best goal. So we needed a way to schedule our work according to our week ahead, but store the completed work in a sensible manner for each individual class. Ideally, this would all be presented in a dashboard of some sort so our kids would not even need to ask us what was next, it would all just be there for them to see at any time. Equally important was a need for them to see some sort of progress.
You’ll recall I said I was a computer guy right? It turns out, I’ve also been keeping a casual eye on technology in education. I’m an advocate of it, but I’ve seen it horribly misused also. In fact, a good deal of my experience with educational software could be seen as a long litany of how-NOT-to examples. But I’ve seen some really stellar things also and even more potential.
For the time being, I have settled on a core set of tools with possibly more to add over time. Although I fought somewhat to avoid it, I eventually made Google Classroom and Google apps the centerpiece of my homeschool, administrative framework. I create a Google Classroom for every class and map out the syllabus. I then schedule assignments (when to start on them, not when they are due) and they show up in the family Google Calendar. They then use the various Google applications to do their assignments. They can then save their assignments as PDFs to submit to their FLVS teachers. They can also save their quizzes as PDFs and save them on Google Drive. Quizzes, notes and assignments can then be attached to the Google Classroom assignment and grades recorded. Grade reports can then be generated from Google Classroom as Google Sheets. From all of this, I can create a live report card and transcript that updates automatically, every time I update the grade sheets. I can also create a portfolio from a Google Doc that links directly to every assignment uploaded.
The final piece needed was to try to make this all fun and provide a single portal for the kids to know what to do next. For this, I paid for an annual subscription for ClassCraft (http://www.classcraft.com/). This would provide a gamified portal linked directly to Google Classroom telling them what assignment was next and allowing them to gain points for completing assignments.
There are many, many details that went into all of this and many are still being worked out. Did you know there are about six different ways to calculate a GPA and there is no accepted standard? I didn’t. But as I create each of the pieces to this puzzle, these little details start to pop up.
So hopefully, I am now ready to start showing you how I use each of these tools in detail, including how I built my calendar rosetta stone. Oh, and hey, we might even talk about the schooling itself as well…