Apps that are almost cool…

So, had a bit of a technical snafu the other day. I decided to try teaching a class online. Several other teachers for our CoOp had started doing so using Zoom. Now, I have nothing against Zoom, but I have been using ClassCraft and Google Classroom all year to manage my lectures, assignments, etc. That meant the entire class already had GMail accounts setup and has been using them to submit work. So, thought I, “why introduce something else into the mix? Let’s just use Google Hangouts.”

Of course, I knew better, but a quick search showed a limit of 150 participants for Google Hangouts and during these times, everyone who does collaboration software has been dropping prices, removing restrictions, etc. so people can still visit one another.

Sadly, it turns out Google puts a limit of 10 participants for Video Hangouts and little did I know their response to this nationwide quarantine would be “meh…”

So in a couple of days we’ll try it again, this time using Zoom and once again, I remind myself of the Google motto “…we build apps that are almost cool…”

Okay, really…?

I try not to rant too often, I generally don’t see the point. But some things come up often enough you start to feel obligated to reply. For those who can’t seem to figure it out on their own, yes, the Corona Virus scare and public limitations affect homeschoolers also. Seriously, just look at our Facebook feeds! Our kids almost certainly get out of the house more than yours!

I feel a bit like Sherlock Holmes talking to Watson. You “see” and yet you do not “observe.” Scroll back on almost any homeschool parent’s Facebook page. On Wednesday we have gymnastics at a local gym and Intermediate and Concert Band at a church down the road. On Thursday we have our CoOp meeting where each student engages in four different academic classes. The CoOp meets at another Church. On Fridays, we meet with another group for some free/social time at different parks in the area. Twice a month (or more) we have field trips to theater shows, nature preserves and museums. Basketball is twice a week at the YMCA. Choir and Drama spend all semester preparing for shows and they have fund raiser events to pay for props and the like. All of these places are closed or have restricted access.

The homeshcool shut-in is a tiresome tripe. If you feel the need to comment on homeschooling, consider paying attention a little. Many of these people are friends of yours. Make Sherlock Holmes proud and start “observing” just a little. You might even learn something to help yourself through these times.

So Much to Say…

…and yet I never said it. It’s been almost a year since the FPEA conference which was part of my motivation for this site. In retrospect, I was not thinking clearly on how to use this blog site and what to say. I wanted to talk about some of the things we are doing, but I also wanted to talk about HOW I am doing it. That makes for a pretty long post. Plus, it is very labor intensive in that I actually have to make sure the directions I give are correct and actually work.

I’ve since realized, while I still want to do the How-Tos, they need to be done a something separate from the blogging. So, to blogging (How-Tos coming soon…)

ClassCraft… Way cool. I ran across this awhile ago and have been trying to use it for home. It is designed to entice classrooms to work together and be inspired to do classwork through the use of gamification. It uses a fantasy setting with a story line, “boss battles” and “random events” to keep the classroom lively.

Now, for home use, I am still struggling to find a good approach for it. However, this year I started teaching a Computer Programming class for our homeschool co-op. For the first semester, I did not use it, partially because I did not know how the other parents would feel about a fantasy themed gamification, the idea of gamification, requiring Internet access and email accounts for students, etc.

Unfortunately, I spent all semester begging and pleading with students and parents to get their students to turn in homework so I could make sure everyone was keeping up and understanding the lectures. Since our co-op meets only once a week, I just 45 minutes to lecture and check in on student progress. Said evaluation typically came in the form of me just walking around class to see what was on their computer screens.

In desperation, I decided to deploy ClassCraft in the classroom. I had already paid for it for myself so took the risk. I put it out to my parents, coerced them into create GMail accounts for their kids so I could integrate Google Classroom I even did a couple sessions on Internet Safety using the NestSmartz Kids resources.

It was painful, but WOW what a difference! Once everyone was setup and introduced, I went from begging kids to turn in something, anything, to having those same kids yelling at ME to grade their work faster!!!!

If you run a classroom for a co-op or something similar take a look at it. The “Random Events” have turned into a ridiculously huge hit. Although my first Boss Battle hit them pretty hard, it seemed to only galvanize them to be ready for them. In fact, this weekend I need to create a new Boss Battle. One that will challenge them a bit more.

Convention Time

At the last minute, we decided to attend the home school convention here in Orlando put on by the Florida Parent Educator Association (FPEA). We decided not to attend last year because at this time last year we were still up to our eyeballs trying to sort things out.  We assumed, we think rightfully, the convention at that time for us would have just drowned us.  But this year, we had almost a year under our belt so it seemed like it might be worthwhile.  Even so, we procrastinated watching the price go up as we missed all the early discounts.  I think we literally decided on the first day of the convention to go ahead and attend.

Not to spoil the punch line, but even at the door price, it was money well spent.  I think all of us managed to get something out of it.

Since we did not have a babysitter handy, we decided to haul everyone down on Thursday to see the exhibit floor.  We sent the two older boys off on their own with instructions to come back with “something interesting you want to do.”  Of course, they found the booth with the foam swords and battle axes and the other one with the rubber band guns.  But the also found a conversational Japanese course they wanted to take.

Somewhat surprisingly, our 9th grader actually had conversations with several of the college booths and looked excited by the prospect.  They also both found several Fantasy/Sci-Fi authors they were interested in.  The one author they both agreed on, we went ahead and bought his entire collection.

For the youngest (besides a foam, hand battle axe) we may have found the curriculum we will start him out on.  While I favor the Memoria Press line for the older two, we think we will start our First Grader on the Oak Meadow curriculum.  Like our other two, reading is not the first skill he is developing and the Memoria Press curriculum is pretty reading intensive.  Just looking it over made Jennifer start to panic.  In many ways, this alone made the price of admission worth while.  The decision to start our youngest Homeschooling now was a late breaking one and we were not well prepared for it.

The most surprising thing of all though were the sessions.  Being first timers, we had no idea who all the speakers and personalities were.  So we choose, somewhat blindly what sessions to attend.  Every single session provided us some new insight, or in some cases affirmation.  In one case I walked out thinking “I am a genius.”  Okay, maybe not, but I had been holding back on a few ideas I had, thinking they were maybe a bridge to far, only to sit in sessions not only recommending exactly what I had been thinking, but showing examples of their success.  Had I not attended these sessions, I may never have pulled the trigger on these ideas.

For Jennifer, I think she got a pretty serious confidence boost.  I think of all of us, this last year has been the hardest on her.  While she agrees with the concept, she has lived the last year on the edge of panic that we won’t do it right.  Unfortunately, I’m no help because I have no reasonable sense of fear or caution and I’m afraid I gave her little or no say in how we did things this year.  Our current school year is still in its closing round, but I think she is reasonably confident we are doing well by the older two.  We of course still need to tweak a few things.  But her underlying lack of confidence re-emerged when we started talking about starting our youngest now instead of in a few years as originally planned.  I think the sessions she attended and the curriculum she found gave her the boost she needed to commit.

We still have a bag full of stuff to sort through and since we did not attend sessions together, we need to pow-wow a bit and decide on what to do next.

“Dad, I want to read Shakespeare…”

Dad: “What? You don’t shake your beer!”

Son: “No dad, ShakesPEARE. I want to read The Tempest and Hamlet.”

Okay, so that’s not really how the conversation started. It started by my oldest son asking me how much I’d be willing to spend on a book. This might sound like a strange question, but my kids know, no matter how often I say “No” to video games and other things, I am always willing to pay for new books. However, he was expecting me to say no to this one because it was a very nice, rather expensive, leather bound version (The Tempest and Hamlet).

Now, I’m really hoping he decides to binge read some Shakespeare. Not only is it a good idea on its own, I already have the Memoria Press curriculum for “The Canterbury Tales” and “Henry V.” It would be wonderful to not have to force feed him these.

Of course, at this point you are probably expecting me to high five homeschooling for leading into this wonderfully classical moment. Unfortunately, the win goes to Japanese Anime. A show he is watching has mentioned it several times. Not that I find that odd. I trace my own interest in music, particularly classical music directly back to Bugs Bunny and other Saturday morning cartoons. So I get it.

The cost is not actually a deal breaker here I told him. I then showed him my first copy of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A rather battered set of paperback books. I then showed him the leather bound, slip case versions of the Hobbit and the Trilogy I have, and the 50th Anniversary versions of those, and the soft leather bound version I picked up a couple years ago and the set of soft leather, pocket sized versions in the boxed set. Collectable versions of books we like are also, always acceptable I told him.

So did I buy it? Not yet. I made a deal with him. “I already have Shakespeare in the house. Read from the book I have” I told him. “If you get to the end of those stories and still want the collectible versions, I’ll get them for you.”

So where is the homeschool win? I got to walk over to my bookshelves, pull the book off (all twenty pounds of it) and just hand it to him. I didn’t have to remind him about the book he is reading for English that he hates, his History project or his lab report. Without any caveats what so ever, I simply said here, read, enjoy. THAT’s when education wins in my mind.

Oh, and a shout out to the well provisioned, home library win here. That book is older than he is. In fact, it is older than my marriage. That book has been sitting on my book shelf for thirty years, waiting for just this moment…

So that’s the problem…

So it’s been awhile since I’ve posted.  There are several reasons.  Of course, I’ve been busy so that’s one reason.  Second, I’ve had another post mostly ready to go for some time but wanted to include some screenshots to better illustrate what I did. That’s a lot like documentation and no programmer likes to do that.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a horde of followers clamoring at me to post, but perhaps most importantly, as a college buddy of mine once accused, I have little or no capacity to maintain even a bad habit, let alone a good one.  But today, something odd happened. I slept until noon.  I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but for no apparent reason the house went silent, even with house guests so I just didn’t have the usual noise forcing me out of bed.

Well, I had things to do so I hopped out of bed, somewhat displeased with the loss of hours I needed to get things done and got myself ready for the day.  I came out, saw some laundry needing folded and decided to do that first.  Since the kids were all up in the loft still being surprisingly quiet (I went up to check on them just to make sure) I decided to turn on some music because I rarely get the chance.  While the Roku TV was firing up though, I made a sudden change of mind and tuned into the Ted Talks channel instead.  I went to the list of many, many talks I’d marked for listening and came upon this one:

I encourage you to take a moment to listen to it now, even if you’re familiar with it, it’s just over nineteen minutes long.  This video is rather old now and I am seeing it for the first time, which is an interesting line of thinking all it’s own.

I marked this initially because of the title and because I’ve agreed with this sentiment for some time.  What I did not realize was this is very likely my CORE dispute with the current public school system.  I’ve chipped away at it for years now from many different angles.  A child who scores literally off the chart in some areas while dead average in others, yet in the advanced academic program tended to score better in subjects he was not supposed to be good at.  Getting C’s in class, not because he was getting C’s, but because he was getting A’s and zeros.  Another child who scores high average across the board, in literally every subject but is not considered “advanced.”  This might seem somewhat obvious, but the truth is, such a student is almost guaranteed to be bored in every single subject with not the slightest bit of challenge.  This in fact proved to be true when he showed himself able to run straight A’s just because the school gave a goodie bag prize that was better for A Honor roll than A/B honor roll.  While I admire the school administrators for finding a way to motivate students, I don’t feel the difference should be so easily attained, nor do I feel that should have been the end goal.  While I may be a bit harsh on this point (or even wrong), keep in mind, this was the student who was NOT considered AAP qualified yet he had “mastered” everything they threw at him.  Perhaps something more challenging would have been in order?

It was the above video however, that caused me to step back from the details and recognize what is likely the core flaw.  I remember a story my mother once told about my first day of school.  I was the oldest so like all mothers, mine was a bit unsettled by this first send off.  She waited anxiously at the bus stop for my return.  As I exited the bus she quickly asked me what we did today to which I replied, “we did everything, and I was good at all of it…”

Somewhat accidentally, I kept this viewpoint throughout school.  I scored high, but did so with little effort and no focus.  I did NOT score perfectly.  I scored high enough on my tests to qualify for any university I wanted.  I would later learn the difference between being qualified and competitive.  In fact, I never did finish college, but this one trait created a career for me.  I retained the ability to be “good at everything” which actually has nothing to do with actually being good at the particular task and more with having no fear of it.  Another example:  A friend of mine whose skills I highly respect was having a problem with a bit of code and in frustration, he handed it off to me.  I worked out the issue and gave it back.  After I explained the solution and how it worked he gave to me the best complement I have ever received.  He said, “now that you’ve shown me the solution and why it works, it makes perfect sense.  What I don’t understand is what in God’s name made you think to try that in the first place…”

To this day, I don’t recall the particular issue because for me it was the same as any other problem I’d worked on.  I had worked myself into a niche where I would troubleshoot the problems that baffled the experts.  This did NOT make me smarter than them and it certainly did not make me more qualified for those jobs.  In fact, I used to explain this ability by stating my skills in such diverse problems came primary from NOT being crippled by actual knowledge.  I had no preconceived notion of what could or should be done, so I had to work it out blindly.  This simply allowed me to see past their assumptions.

The point of all this is, I retained a rather severe dislike of being wrong.  In many ways, that is what drives me most.  Now I know your first response will be, we all hate being wrong, but I’ll argue with you on this.  By and large, most people hate getting CAUGHT being wrong and so will fight ferociously to retain the ability to still claim they are right.  I on the other hand, actually hate being wrong.  So much so that if you prove me wrong, I will switch sides in the blink of an eye, truly.  Now for the most part, this won’t be obvious at first.  I will argue my point as defensively as anyone because I’ve actually thought it through.  However, should you actually present me with some evidence I was not aware of, or perhaps some insight that slipped past me, I will stop and switch my views right then and there.  I realize this is a rather lofty claim, but I’ve done it and the reaction I get every time is to some degree or another the same; shock.  Many will try to needlessly continue the argument refusing to believe I had truly given over.  The most extreme version of this had a manager calling security because she thought I had snapped.

Now, it still remains to be seen how this applies to my own children.  Are they like me and “good at everything” or do they have a single, true passion?  What actually drives them?  Regardless, how do I bring that out and mange or reconcile it with my notion of insuring they go to college?  The only thing I do know for certain, is that for all the claims of public schools, they are most certainly NOT looking for that natural talent or interest in my children and so will succeed, only by the greatest of accidents.

P.S.  I once thought a very good friend of mine was “wasting his time” studying Art in college.  I had no doubt of this, despite his obvious skill.  He is now illustrating for the likes of the New York Times, Time Magazine, the New Yorker and many others.  I think it’s obvious now who spent their college years more wisely…

The New Administration

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…

 

Educational Fruit Salad (part 4)

All the Rest

The remaining goals, Learning to Learn, Learning to Mastery, Making Learning fun and Avoiding Test Anxiety all pretty much got lumped together. This also encompasses the second part of College Preparation; that being College Survival Skills.  The driving force for this is Learning to Mastery. In simple terms, this means not progressing until you are ready, i.e. you don’t leave the current chapter until you’ve actually learned it. From a day-to-day perspective, this means if you don’t get an “A” on the test, you go back, study some more and take it again. Yes, I realize getting an “A” does not actually mean you have mastered a subject. But I think we can all agree NOT getting an “A” does in fact mean you have NOT mastered the skill. So it is a weak indicator, but, at least in some cases, the only.

In a true homeschooling sense, this is not a problem. Just send your child back to read and try it again. In public schools of course, this just simply isn’t allowed. In some cases, students can in fact ask to retake a test, but nothing about the class flow or schedule changes to accommodate that. The student just takes the test again while the class continues on. Interestingly, the Florida Virtual Schools do NOT follow the policy of their brick and mortar cousins. Each section allows up to three submissions for its quizzes and assignments. Depending on the class and teacher, the chapter exams may or may not allow retries. Additionally, they do not force a strict adherence to a schedule. Students are expected to make “some progress” weekly, but within certain constraints, the start and end dates are flexible. So while not perfect, it offers just enough flexibility to be usable.

Gamification is a concept making the rounds in Education, Corporate Training and even social research programs.  The concept is as simple as it sounds.  Everyone loves games, so make lessons into games to motivate learners.  In theory, a game is more fun and adds a competitive component to further motivate students.  It’s not even a new concept.  Games like Chess are believed to have been used to teach nobility war strategy.  Special skills training such as Corporate Leadership Training and the like have used games as a way to create situations stimulating the same decision processes as those required for common work scenarios.  In it’s simplest form, it can be nothing more than a points system where various actions either add to or subtract from a student’s points where the end goal is to meet some specific value, usually for some tangible reward.

As it turns out, there are many, many options for this.  Duolingo is a language learning site where members gain points for learning lessons.  Groups can even create private leader boards to compare results on a continuous basis.  Moodle, an Educational Content Management System has many plugins for turning lessons into games. While Moodle is still a possibility, our primary game learning platform is ClassCraft.  This is a paid service that allows you to create “quests” for your students.  By turning in assignments, students progress through the quest, earning points and gold.  Our hope is to turn their ClassCraft gold into actual cash as a reward/allowance system.

Anxiety is another concern.  Its not that we want to shield our children from all adversity.  However, we see very little value in intentionally creating artificial deadlines or disproportionate consequences.  The sentence needs to match the crime, so to speak.  The reasoning for this should be fairly obvious.  If you frame the goal in the form of a disassociated reward (a grade, a scholarship, video game time) and try to teach your child to make “responsible decisions” they may just opt to take the “C” and let the future be damned.  Then your only recourse is to say “I dislike your choice, and since I’m the parent, I’m going to overrule your decision.”  So, rather than saying on Friday you’re taking a test and your MIT scholarship is on the line, we simply say the only way to complete the chapter is to learn the material.  If you fail to learn it, we do it again.  Now the effort and consequence match the goal.  By learning the material and getting an “A”, we finish the chapter and move on.  If we fail to get the “A”, we do it again.  And again.  And again.  The ability to complete the required work and move on to something more fun, is now entirely in the hands of the student and the cause and effect are directly related.

Learning to Learn is the final piece of this puzzle and something else that has just gone by the wayside.  No teacher teaches this anymore.  Now, one might argue this is not the teacher’s responsibility but the parents’ and there is a good chance you would convince me of this.  HOWEVER, when the teacher refuses to communicate with the parent about expectations, lesson plans, etc. and instead filters every communication through an eleven year old, there is no reason anyone should expect anything other than accidental success at best.  In the public school system, this would require a true partnership between the parent and teacher but teachers (or their administration) have instead drawn a line in the sand where we send them our kids and they send back end of cycle reports and that is it.  If you decide to blacklist your child by declaring a special need for them, then you negotiate a contract (IEP) for your child but you still get no ongoing, interaction or oversight. You’ve just created a more complex way to be ignored.  In our new homeschool, we have started to take the time, even stalling our instruction to review note taking and record keeping.  This late in the game, it is quite painful, but we are hoping it pays off in the long run (and hopefully in the near term as well, once we get past the whining complaining…)

In short, we are looking to do all the things our schools have promised to do but have continually failed to accomplish.  By homeschooling, we have the unique scenario of complete agreement between Teacher, Administrator and Parent and we get direct and immediate feedback from our students as to our program’s effectiveness.

 

Educational Fruit Salad (part 3)

Well Rounded Education

One of the areas we felt was falling apart or downright failing in the public school system was the concept of a well-rounded education.  We, like many others found ourselves massively disappointed with the test-centric metrics for success being used by the schools.  This ultimately meant any class not directly mapped to a government mandated test or other program, was continuously on the chopping block.  The other  programs and classes were underfunded or outright eliminated.   Even within the “protected” subjects, the precise curriculum and activities were focused on the end of year, testable outcome.

As part of our research, we stumbled onto educational methods such as the “Trivium” and “Classical Education.” These seemed to be exactly what we were looking for. Unfortunately, we were a bit late to the party here.  These methods start with Elementary School and we were starting with Middle and High School.  So the question we had (and still have) was, is it possible to jump into the middle of this?  Our choice was ultimately to give it a try.  And our choice of curriculum was the one from Memoria Press. It is the same program (or mostly so) as offered by their brick and mortar schools, The Highlands Latin School as well as the Highlands Latin Cottage Schools (for Homeschoolers) and their online Academy.

In practical application, it meant some things in the standard program will be “substituted” for what they have done in the past or which we have planned going forward. In other cases though, we are just behind and in essence, need to start at the third grade level.  You can’t just start with Latin V because that’s what the program dictates for your age.  This does break some of the continuity and for us, remains to be seen if the disruption is relevant or not.  Our hope is, once we get going, we will be working at an accelerated rate.  Since we have no goal of finishing Middle and High School early, this will create the time needed to deal with the backlog. This is also what we hope will allow us to take additional science and elective courses.

Educational Fruit Salad (part 2)

College Preparation

This really comes in two flavors: College Entrance and College Survival Skills.  This goal is focused on College Entrance.  What things can we do to insure the best possible chances of college entry?  Our research pretty much filtered down to four high level points:

  • Curriculum mapping
  • Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors level coursework
  • Dual Enrollment
  • Scholarships

For the most part, we had very little heartburn with the actual curriculum offered at public schools.  We felt it lacked a few things and that it was implemented poorly. So if anything, we were looking to ADD to the standard schedule, not remove anything.  So having a clear understanding of the required, public school course load was essential.  Fortunately, it was also easy to find. The Florida Department of Education made this easy.  The Lake County District web site had all this information readily available.  I even found a list of text books used.  It became really a straight forward task of mapping the classes we wanted to the particular curriculum or resource I chose for that subject.

Currently, we are using the following:

  • Mathematics – Saxon/Shormann Math
  • Advanced/Honors/AP History/Civics – Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS)
  • Advanced/Honors/AP Science – Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS), Shormann Science
  • Spanish – Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS), Duolingo
  • Fitness/Health – Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS), Community Programs, CoOp
  • Language Arts/Literature/Classical Studies – Memoria Press
  • Latin – Memoria Press
  • Fine/Performing Arts – CoOp, Community Programs
  • Religious Studies – Memoria Press, Church
  • Other Elective – mixed

I’ll talk in more detail about each of these later.

For Advanced Placement and Honors level work this is accomplished through a couple, pretty straightforward means.  Many curriculums have this as a simple option. For the FLVS classes, you simple enroll as Advanced/Honors, then do the additional assignments as you work through the class.  For other curriculums, they include instructions for how to grade or manage the curriculum for an advanced level.  For AP classes, the key is taking the Advanced Placement test, which in Florida at least, is supposedly offered to Homeschool students. We’ve not looked into details for this yet, but it seems fairly clear it is easily available.  Therefore, what we looked for was either an AP option for the class, or the presence of AP preparatory options.  Both the FLVS and Shormann series offer these.

Dual Enrollment (taking college level classes for college level credit while still in high school) turned out to be an unexpectedly sticky widget.  While we are not yet convinced we want to take advantage of this (the whole point was to slow down Middle and High School to get the most out of it, not rush through it even faster), but we did not want to lose the option either.  For Florida Public Schools this is offered free of charge.  It is also offered to Homeschoolers.  However, referring back to my earlier mention of tricky vocabulary, there is a “homeschool” option that by Florida law is not considered homeschooling.  Many Homeschoolers use what are called “Umbrella Schools.”  These offer certain benefits and protections to homeschool families.  However, by Florida Law, these are considered Private Schools and are therefore not offered free usage of the Dual Enrollment program.  The current policy is that Dual Enrollment fees are charged back to the school.  Because most of these Umbrella Schools are nothing more than legal shields for Homeschools, they are not able to afford this option for their members.  Those that do offer this option appear to have adopted a “play it safe” approach and only offer it to Homeschoolers who can provide grades from accepted institutions such as the Florida Virtual School and the county Public Schools.  Because of this, we opted to go with the “Portfolio Review” option even though it puts us at the mercy of “the man.”

The state of Florida has a scholarship program named Bright Futures.  Somewhat surprisingly, this program is in fact open to Homeschoolers.  However, you do have to meet pretty much the same criterion as public school students. For us, the really wasn’t much of problem except to serve as a checkpoint for us as we designed our curriculum. Including things such as a world language, service hours, etc. are the types of things we need to insure we include in their records.  Fortunately, these also align naturally with our plans anyway.