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.

Educational Fruit Salad (part 1)

When choosing a public school, we all know the drill.  We want “A” rated schools.  We check various forums for comments from attending families.  We try to live in areas with long standing, highly rated schools.  What I find ironic is not once did my wife and I even consider looking at the actual curriculum.  We didn’t look at the structure of their day, or the classroom environment.

As I mentioned in a previous post, public schools are generally speaking, an apples to apples comparison.  We don’t actually get a choice about anything with our public schools except our choice of geography.  With homeschooling, the first hurdle is to decide what you even want.  You’ve already decided you don’t want apples, so what do you choose?  Oranges?  Figs? Pomegranates?  Are you going to insist on organic only?  Perhaps you’ll actually grow your own.  All of the choices the public schools have taken away from you, homeschooling gives back in spades.

Unfortunately, given this many options with no obvious common boundaries to provide direct analysis, our brains tend to freeze up.  Many, like us, come into homeschooling with a litany of reasons NOT to use public schools.  Not surprisingly (in retrospect), that is not even close to the same thing as having a list of reasons TO do homeschooling.  We in fact did investigate private school options.  We looked at them without considering cost (that would come later only if we decided we wanted that route) because we wanted to know if they in fact provided anything better to make the cost worthwhile.  The differences [and similarities] between public and private schools was educational and did indeed help us start forming specific homeschooling goals.

Some of those goals included:

College Preparation: Like the public schools, we recognize the need to prepare our boys for college.  The question at hand was exactly how.  In Florida, this includes state scholarship initiatives, dual enrollment (taking college classes in High School), Advanced Placement (AP) classes, etc.  We wanted to make sure we did not lose these options if we could avoid it.

Learning to Learn:  To our mind and according to our experience, one of the critical failures of the public school was make students responsible for much of their learning and provide little to no guidance on how to manage that.  Any learning method that resembles concrete shoes and the deep end of the pool is a fail.

Well Rounded Education:  In my day, this was the educational motto, although technical majors, such as Engineering were already starting to move away from this.  Our goal was to bring it back.

Learning to Mastery:  Too many subjects depend directly on mastering the pre-requisite classes, especially Mathematics.  Even other subjects where there is no obvious connection, there are patterns and similarities you will never pick up on if you do just the minimum to pass the test.

Make Learning Fun:  This comes in many forms.  Modern educational gamification is one.  Going out into the world and seeing what you are studying about in action.  And then there is the simple need to sometimes stop and just go outside and run around with no purpose at all.

Avoid Artificial Anxiety:  Life is tough enough without making up nonsense to stress over.  This is not a case of “coddling” but rather recognition of a plan in the process of failing.  i.e., most test anxiety comes from not being properly prepared or comfortable with the material which means you’ve not yet mastered the material and you’re most likely not having fun.

Next, we’ll look into how we translated these goals into an implementation…

So what is homeschooling?

Homeschooling it seems has as many variations as there are practitioners.  More actually.  If you talk to most anyone who has homeschooled more than one child they will tell you how they had to modify their basic plan from child to child, somestimes drastically.  This of course, is what makes homeschooling such a scary looking cliff to jump from.  It’s just not easy to evaluate the waters below.  Public schools however, are in essence, all the same.  That’s why we can grade them.  This school is an “A” school, this one is a “B.”  We can do this because public schools are, by design, an apples to apples comparison.

Now, I’m not going to spend time educating you on all the variations on homeschooling.  Google can lead your research there.  The reason I mention this is so I can define what homeschooling is to us.  I’ll define our “vocabulary” which may or may not agree with the way you have heard these words used by others.  As I’ve managed to discover, context matters, so I want to be sure I set the proper context for my posts that follow.

For instance, we contacted a teacher to evaluate our plan.  From her perspective (county homeschool assessor), we were labeled “Unschoolers.”  Our current plan does not at all resemble what most Unschoolers would expect.  From her perspective however, we took a look at all the available options such as the public Florida Virtual Schools, Umbrella Schools, CoOps, Unschooling, “Big Box” curriculums, online/edelivery courses, local commercial “homeschooler” activities and treated the whole big thing like a buffet, picking and choosing the parts we wanted.  As such, we failed to fit into any one category and were thus labeled “Unschoolers.”  What this most likely means to her, is she cannot just use her knowledge of existing curriculums and then test our kids against it.  She’ll have to be more creative and look more closely at exactly what our curriculum consists of.

In my next post, I’ll discuss a bit of the lingo and how it applies to us, affects us or is interpreted by us.  That will hopefully set the context needed to discuss more details concerning how we are going about this whole thing…

Hello World!

Hello, indeed world!

The cat is pretty much out of the bag now.  For those friends who are not aware we have entered the world of Homeschooling, let it now be common knowledge.  My apologies for not informing you sooner.  For various reasons, once we made the decision to do so, we pretty much kept things under wraps while we researched the homeschool arena; we didn’t even tell our kids about these plans because we did not want to torpedo their last year of public schools.

What that means from a blogging perspective, is all the research, soul searching and questions I spent about six months working through are now lost to the mists of time.  I may yet return to them as part of a rants and raves thread, but for now, I’ll start with where we are now and move forward from there.  Should anyone find these musings amusing, even better.

So come on in, take a seat, and open your drink of choice…