FreshGrade a Digital Portfolio Tool Appropriated for Homeschooling

I have really been lucky with educational technology lately, and thought I would pass on some of these great resources to you.

For those of you that are not unschooling or who are required to document your child’s learning in an annual portfolio, Freshgrade, an app created for teachers might work for you. Check out the demo below.

How I am using this:

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This is a screen shot of one of our portfolio entries. As you can see, we are still working on letter writing.
I have created a class with one very important student, J-man. He is my favorite! I signed up my husband as the parent, so that every time I update the portfolio, he gets a notification. It’s nice for him to get to have those little daily updates about the little buddy’s work.

As we work on different activities, I take a quick snap shot and write a caption. This way I don’t have to try to remember what we have done when I’m putting the portfolio together. So, while this is an app made for the traditional teacher, I am super stoked that I have this safety net to help me document all of our learning this year.

If you have more than one child, you can just add students to your “class”. You can view the portfolio as a whole class to get an overview on what you are doing over time, or you can view by student so that you can see what each individual child is doing.

This app is going to save me because as organized as I am trying to become, paper remains the bain of my existence and I just know these daily reminders of J-man’s work would not make it to his portfolio evaluation at the end of the year.

Do you have apps that help you in your homeschool? Are you appropriating something from traditional schools to use in your homeschool? Share those ideas here! I would love to learn what you are doing!

 

 

Perseverance and the Perfect Cartwheel

 

Last Thursday I got a real treat. The Gymnasium was nearly empty for J-Man’s gymnastics class, which is pretty rare. Usually, I can barely see him through all of the other classes, much less hear him and his teacher as they discuss the finer points of the different tumbles. This time, I had a clear shot the parent bleachers and what I saw gave me hope in the face of some recent struggles.

J-man is gifted intellectually and what that often means is that he has become accustomed for things to be easy for him. He struggles with challenges and mistakes. Earlier in the week, he was helping me label some boxes for moving and misspelled a word. He lost it because it was permanent marker. He couldn’t deal with this mistake. This has been pretty indicative of his reaction to imperfection. On this day, though, I watched him attempt a cartwheel and fail. He tried again, and he failed again. And again. And again. He then asked his teacher if he could try again. And failed to keep his legs straight and swing them over. Why would this make me happy? He did not get upset. He asked questions, and asked to keep going. I could not have been more proud than if he had channeled Mary Lou Retton and cartwheeled the whole length of the gym.

We have been doing our best to help J-man develop a growth mind-set. This means encouraging J-man to focus on developing skills and not focusing on outcomes. As a former IB teacher I have been familiar with the IB attitudes in the Primary Years Programme. Students are encouraged commit to working through the difficulties of a task and come up with multiple solutions rather than placing the emphasis on getting the right answer to that multiple choice test. We try to stay away from comments like, “Wow, you are so smart!” in favor of comments like “I love how you stuck with that, buddy! Look at what you can do when you keep at it!” But, we are FAR from perfect. Carol Dweck is the guru of the “growth mindset” framework. Here she is giving a TED talk about believing in growth.

 

When J-man started to read early, we were known to exclaim about how amazing he was and how proud we were of him. I’m afraid we were contributing to a fixed mindset, focused on achievement, instead of focusing on the process and effort. This can be problematic because he was in those high growth years where his brain was forming dendrites and making connections. He started to connect achievement with praise. JoAnn Deak talks about this in Your Fantastic Elastic Brain. Learning comes easy in the early years, but the challenge is if they are learning bad habits at this time it is hard to break them and create new ones.

To help us with this process of focusing on growth rather than product, we created this info-graphic to hang in our work area, available on Teachers Pay Teachers. It emphasizes the things that students and parents can say to reframe their thinking.

Developing a Growth Mindset Infographic

While we probably have a long way before J-man will feel comfortable making a mistake, at least now we have some fertile ground to plant seeds. Oh…and the cart-wheel? On Monday, just three short days later, he executed a series of perfect cartwheels with beautiful straight legs and stuck the landing. Mary Lou would be proud!

Managing Our New Homeschool Life

Brace yourselves, kids. This is a long one.

After fantasizing for months about getting to have the opportunity to be with J-Man every day and all of the cool things we would do, the time is finally here. If I am honest, the transition has been a little hard on me. My job was hyper busy. Each day I would leave work feeling like I had run a marathon. I was exhausted mentally and physically, and sometimes even emotionally.

Fast forward to August. I talked about this overwhelming feeling to do everything with several stay-at-home mom friends recently, and the consensus is that it is really easy to get seduced by the idea that there will always be time to do more. The reality is, that the days get away from us when we don’t plan. So while I have the freedom to do anything, maybe I need to develop the discipline to narrow the focus and finish what I start. So in the interest of trying to organize myself I am putting to use the planner that I bought at the end of the school year to use at work, but this time, it is for my new job as Momster the Super Mom.

I bought this planner from Erin Condren, and I have to say it is not cheap. However, there are few planners on the market that have the customability and versatility that her planners offer. The video is positively seductive. I was convinced that upon purchase, I was going to have a transformative experience where the angel of organization would visit me with a gold pen to write appointments. Never would I double or triple book myself again.

And…no angel or gold pen, but I was rocking it with a  pencil. Here is an example of a page from my last month at work. Notice I have appointments! I was (semi)organized! If you worked with me previously, we don’t need to go into the hairy details of what semi looked like!

planner may

 

Now I’m planning for a move to a new house, a hopefully really cool creative gig, J-man social and gym calendar and we are already booked up again! Sometimes, because of not keeping track, I have double booked the J-Man for social engagements for the same day, not allowing him much downtime in-between as we rush from one side of the Tampa Bay area to another. I clearly need a plan.

Sooooo let’s lay out the priorities:

Grocery Shopping

Maybe, but after six years of often not having anything in the house for dinner, we have settled into a bad habit of fast food and eating out. So, this is now a priority.

J-Man’s Social Calendar

I swear that kid does more than I did in college. Of course, I was kind of nerdy, and there were a couple of periods when I had three jobs, but the long-winded point is, HE GOES OUT. We have to tame this socialization beast. I have pretty much accepted any and all invitations for us over the last month.

Gym/Fitness: I have not made this a priority since J-Man came into my life. The reality is this: how can I teach him independence and how to take care of himself, if I am not taking care of myself? He is going to have to see that taking care of yourself is important. I want him to grow up to have a healthy relationship with his body, and the best way to do that is to develop that in myself.

Learning/Reading/Library Time

Well, at some point we have to put the school in the home school. This will probably not include too much of me teaching and him sitting doing “work”, but I have to make sure not to overschedule him, or we won’t have time for spontaneous discovery and in-depth exploration. I have already found that the library is great to get him started. This will also include field trip times like when we go to the causeway at low tide to see the sea critters up close.

Work Time

Somebody has to make the donuts. I am trying to work several different hustles to make this all possible, and that takes some time. I will go into more detail later, when I hopefully have some good news to share on that one. If you don’t know the donut reference, this one is for you:

Family Time

Now that Hubs is working more on top of his class load, we need to be careful to schedule time for Jack to be with his daddy. I kind of want to see him too.

House care

When my fairy godmother drops in, I swear there will be a housekeeper twice a week. Until then, someone has to vacuum and do laundry. I put this waaaaaaaaayyyyy down the line in importance. I’m totally ok with dishes in the sink if it means a really cool experience with the J-Man.

Down Time for Mama (OK I really mean Pinterest)

I need some chardonnay, Netflix and sitting time as well. Most importantly this needs to not be at 2:00 AM.

So, how is this all going to happen. Well, I’m going to need some self-discipline and to really use this planner. I am also going to use the daily features that separate the day into morning, afternoon, and evening. I am going to start with the hubs’ schedule. This way I will guard some daddy-boy time in our daily schedule and add in all the other things we need to do.

What do you use to keep time sacred for what is important to you?

 

(I was not compensated for endorsing the Erin Condren Planner)

Revolution-Opting Out of Standardized Testing

I am still amazed, despite daily evidence, that in our country we hate science and research so much. We must! We run headlong toward false thinking and take up actions that are continually proven counterproductive and harmful. We do this in our food and lifestyle choices and in our use and choice of energy sources, but nowhere is this willfully ignorant avoidance of logic and research more clear than in our methods of education accountability.

Standardized testing is not new. I took the Iowa and California Achievement Tests as a child and I am 40. The SAT has been around since the 1920s according to Petersons.com. What is different now is the way testing is used. Where as in the past, testing was used as a general litmus test to get an idea for how well a school and its students were doing in comparison to schools and students elsewhere, now it has become a hard bar that determines student placement, teacher compensation, and the distribution of school resources. The problem here, is that while we may be getting better at testing, colleges and businesses are noticing an incoming workforce that is woefully unprepared to contribute to society.

 

 

With all of the money spent on testing, you would think that teachers would receive powerful information about students’ progress that would help them in to provide lessons that meet the needs of our students. You would think this, but you would be wrong. Despite the fact that the majority of Florida FSA testing will be computerized, the results will, in fact, be reported even later in the year than in the past. This means teachers did not get the results before school was out, and by the time the results are released, students will have had several months of learning. So what is this really reporting? (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/school-zone/os-fsa-scores-school-grades-release-post.html)

I would like all politicians to understand that testing is not teaching. It is highly disruptive to the environment of the entire school by creating a level of anxiety and drain on resources that is inexcusable. But don’t believe me, check out the video below.

 

 

These parents in New York are done with this. Would that parents all over the nation would stand up as well. Parents have tremendous power, but they do not know it. You don’t have to home school or even leave traditional public schools. You do have to make your voice heard. Call your state legislators. Call your local board. Ask questions, and opt out!