Welcome to the Future-STEM and the Homeschool

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That drawing is part of a larger piece done by the J-Man last spring. It’s one of my favorite things he has done because on one piece of paper he combined an illustration of Schroedinger’s Cat, the concept of the multi-verse, Darth Vader, and the slogan, “Welcome to the Future!”

I can tell you for sure that, even if we knew about the multi-verse when I was seven, I probably would have been too busy playing with my Barbies to have paid attention to it. J-man on the other hand is all over that business.

And I’m like…How do I even keep up?

 

Talk of STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, is all over the place. It is THE buzzword in education currently. Jonathan Gerlach, an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow Emeritus and NASA Endeavor Fellow for STEM Education, writes in Education Week, “STEM culture cannot begin halfway through a student’s educational career. By the time our students reach 6th grade, they have made a conscience decision whether or not they will be “good” at math and science. The majority of these students have the potential for greatness; however, they were not engaged in authentic learning early enough in their education.”

Check out Jonathan Gerlach’s article here!

How do we, then make STEM a part of our everyday lives? Here are a few resources that we have used and some that I plan to use to encourage J-Man’s continued love of all things STEM.

Science is Real by They Might Be Giants was on constant rotation. We ALL know these songs word for word in this house! We loved They Might Be Giants anyway, but their series of songs about science, are some of our favorites. These are great for little, little kids and will become earworms for mom and dad.

Legos are not just little plastic instruments of torture for your feet to find in the middle of the night. They are building blocks (I can’t believe I went there) of engineering. The technics series uses a combination of simple machines to create elaborate constructions. These builds are gateways to preparing for Lego Robotics. Kids all over the nation compete in teams to create robots to complete different tasks.

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J-Man worked for a week on this technic mobile crane. This incredibly complicated construction makes extensive use of gears to raise and lower the crane.

Check out these Lego homeschool resources here, designed to integrate the love of building with developing writing skills.

Along the same lines of Legos, Little Bits are interchangeable electronic pieces designed to make engineering machines possible without having to wire and weld pieces together. These are awesome to teach some basic mechanics.

Check out these resources for educators here.

J-Man loves Minutephysics videos to teach some really big concepts. Their easy to understand analogies and the novelty of their drawings fascinate our little buddy.

This is his take on what he learned about how the sun works. He doesn’t quite get the whole thing yet, but he is getting there.

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Lastly, and this is not so much a resource as an idea, we have been fascinated by the images from the hubble telescope. This week, we will be doing some watercolors that are inspired by some of the beautiful nebula that we had never seen when I was a child. J-Man’s favorite is the Horsehead Nebula because it looks like a knight chess piece. We will post the lesson plan and the finished results later in the week.

Horsehead Nebula

What are you doing to encourage your child experiences STEM? What resources have you found?

Why I Love Minecraft

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J-man is a reader. He came by it naturally, as I am absolutely obsessed with the written word. I absolutely know he would rather go to Barnes and Nobles to buy new books than go to Universal Studios to ride roller coasters. In fact, we did go to Universal, and he did want to go back to the hotel to play and read.

Over the years other moms have asked how we get him to read. It would seem that their kids don’t want to read, and there is my kid who checks out on a play date to go read his newest acquisition.

So, my definitive answer to getting your kids to read is simple. We follow two principles in this house. Every time we stray from these practices, we fail.

1. Support Interests

Two summers ago, J-man obsessively read with Captain Underpants. Everywhere we went he had a book with him. We would hear him giggling in the bathroom (which we call the library due to his propensity for staying in there for up to an hour reading) or in his room. He would talk to himself and comment on the action as he read. He was immersed in this world, and loved it. As he would finish one book, we would give the next volume in the adventure. During the summer before kindergarten he read all nine books.

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Now, these books are controversial. The humor is scatological to say the least. I mean with titles like Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets, you kind of know what to expect. Many moms and teachers take great offence to the content. The two main characters are notorious pranksters, possibly juvenile delinquents, who create a comic book. The comic book within the book garners even more criticism as it is riddled with misspelling and poor grammar. Here’s the thing. None of this worried me. What I saw was that my five-year old was motivated to try his first chapter books, and he learned to associate reading for longer periods of time with enjoyment and accomplishment. Before Captain Underpants there was the fascination with space and before that it was dinosaurs. His high level of interest pushed him to read books beyond what one would expect to believe was his reading level. Every time we have let his interests lead us, he begs to read. He takes the book everywhere. I have seen him read on the floor of stores while I am shopping, at the beach, the park, and restaurants.

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It is when we try to push our interests that we fail. He has several books on physics for kids that are almost untouched. It’s not that he can’t read them, it’s just that his interests don’t lie in that direction yet. He also has an entire shelf of chapter books that he hasn’t really touched because they were books that we thought he should like.

His latest obsession is Minecraft. While many parents and educators get up in arms about the trend toward students becoming obsessed with video games, we, like the ninja parents that we are, have channeled his obsession to encourage more reading. Off to Barnes and Noble! We found several Minecraft Hacks books and a massive Minecraft  tips and hints magazine. To say that J-man has read these, does not quite cover the level of laser like focus he has given to these guides. He reads, grabs a laptop or iPad, practices the tip described, and then refers back to the book for further instruction. I don’t know about you, but I see a world made up of people who struggle to apply technical text to real world situations, and here is this kid at seven with four books lying open around him referring to each as he tries to create online. Parenting win!

2. Don’t Make Reading a Chore

What I am about to say will fly in the face of what education experts will tell you. Study after study implores parents to read to their children 30 minutes a day. Teachers assign 20-30 minutes a day of reading. I was part of this culture when I was a reading teacher. I am here to say, this is not what I have done as a parent, and this can be counterproductive if you are trying to create good readers who love reading.

Confession: There were days when J-man was little when I did not read to him. Sometimes several in a row.

Whaaaaattttt?????

It’s true. I did not read to my own child even though I know what the research says. What the hubs and I did was different in its approach, but had a tremendous effect on how the boy saw reading time. If he brought a book to us, we would stop what we were doing–no matter what that was– and read. We would read until he was satisfied. This means that there were times when I read Ira Sleeps Over (a 48 pager) four or five times in a row. It was not unusual to read for an hour or so. There was the Llama Llama Holiday Drama marathon during a layover in Atlanta when we read THIS ONE BOOK for TWO HOURS. As painful as that was (and kids, you will get tired of reading the same book after the third or fourth consecutive reading), it taught him that his books were important. This was a major contributing factor in his learning to read so early on. He learned sounds, words, and even grammar. He asked what words meant, why the /ph/ sounded like the /f/ and what /!/ meant.

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We have never required him to read a certain number of minutes per day. Even when his teachers, who were my very much-loved colleagues, assigned this. We didn’t do it. Some days he read for over an hour. Some days none at all, and that was fine with me. If he wanted to read the same passage over and over I was good with that. Just yesterday, at Taco Bell (of all places), he quoted Roald Dahl’s BFG, and asked me what I thought the word “bulging” indicated “in this case.” He could do this because he has probably read his favorite parts of that book 100 times.

As much as he likes to read, the surest way to get him to resent it is to make him stop something he loves to do to go read. If you treat reading like a chore, kids will like it about as much as they like cleaning their room. Don’t push. I know this sounds counter intuitive, and it may take a while for some kids to come around to wanting to read, but the more you push the harder the resistance.

And that is it. Follow their interests, but don’t push: my six word story about teaching good reading habits. When people ask me if I am concerned that he is spending hours on Minecraft, I tell the truth. I love me some Minecraft! BRING IT ON! I will find every article, guide-book, and magazine on the subject. I know there are five or so more Minecraft hint books at the store that I am holding out as rewards. I will exploit the heck out of it. In the mean time, my kid is getting some amazing comprehension practice while having fun, and that is what it’s all about.

 

 

Getting It All Done and Other Fairy Tales

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I had such a utopian vision of what our days were going to look like. J-Man would wake up around 8:00 AM happy and excited to start the day. We would talk about our plan for the day in a morning meeting as we ate the home cooked breakfast that I made. We would get set up for the day and then do a little yoga, finally settling in to whatever J-Man and I planned to focus on for the day. When he was working independently, I would do laundry, dishes, and stop treating my house like a victim of neglect.

Ahh…dreams.

It took one day for me to see that this was not going to work. First, I grossly underestimated how long the activities we planned would take. The cool thing about working with J-Man is that I get to spend time with him and see what he enjoys. I get to learn more about his strengths and areas where he needs more help. We spent hours on a dream catcher that turned out beautifully, and in the process I found out he has had nightmares lately that he hadn’t told me about before, but these conversations took time. So, more than an hour past when I imagined we would be done.

So, then we started reading together and I was doing the whole, “Oh! No! What will happen to Sophie?” (because I haven’t read the whole thing yet). I was thinking we would have this great conversation about predictions and evidence in reading, and he said, “It’s OK Mom. I know she’s OK. I finished already.” He was reading to humor me, but also because he wanted to snuggle up and share something he enjoyed.

The take away is this: We won’t get to everything I would like us to do in a day. Some days, we might not to get to any of them because we may have an urgent need to get to the beach, but what we are getting is closer everyday.

My house is still a mess, I am four days behind on the blog, and I am behind on my work for my etsy shop, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Are you making it all happen? Share your tips for organizing your days! Please!

All About My First Week–Homeschool Journal Week 1

This is our first week of J-Man’s weekly journal of adventures and learning. In these installments, he will be sharing what he is up to and what he is working on. These entries will be in his own words. It will be fun to see how he develops a writing style over time. 

I was climbing a tree and got to the top.
I was climbing a tree and got to the top.

This week I went to music camp, played minecraft, and asked questions. Like what 2.0 means.

I got a library card.
I got a library card.

I also listened to a story and saw a puppet show.

I was reading a lot of Roald Dahl books.
I was reading a lot of Roald Dahl books.

I like these books because they are fun. I like James and the Giant Peach because it has an adventure. My favorite character is the centipede. He is actually a pest. My favorite part was when the peach fell on the Empire State Building, because there was an airplane and cut the seagulls off.

Jack and a new friend on the Port tour
Me and Kai

I met Kai and homeschool kids. We had fun at park at the water playground.

jack and big grouper
Watching big fish

We went to the aquarium and boat port. I liked to see the lobster. I learned that river otters look like seals. They can perform tricks.

Next week I want to go to the Minecraft club and do gymnastics. I want to learn about our country. I want to learn about the presidents and the monuments. I want to be balanced next week because I want to learn more stuff and play more.

Help For New Unschoolers/Homeschoolers

I am a natural researcher. When I am interested in something, I dive deep into finding out as much as I can about it. So, if you are just starting out, like me, here are some of the resources that I have found absolutely invaluable in helping me understand that 1) this crazy idea was maybe not crazy, 2) what is homeschooling, unschooling, school from home and all the other terminology, and 3) what do I do now?

I started thinking about unschooling because I want J-man to get to experience true student-centered inquiry based learning, which is becoming increasingly incongruous to the direction that state and district mandates are leading public schools. As an educator, I spent eight years focusing on increasing inquiry in the public school class room with inspiration from the likes of Sir Kenneth Robinson’s hugely popular Ted talk (if you have not seen this stop everything and watch it now) I knew I wasn’t doing enough fast enough.

This Ted talk really spoke to me, and when I got a chance to hear him in person last spring, I felt my resolve to jump off the bandwagon grow stronger. You can watch his video here:

I was super fortunate enough to see my geeky super crush, Alan November, at a conference last summer. He made my brain explode about the ways in which schools could be using technology. When I first saw this talk I listened for how to use tech in the traditional school setting, after stripping away the construct of the classroom, I could see how learning real technology could blow the world of research open, not just for me, but for J-man as well. This keynote speech is over an hour long, but it is totally worth it, if you are at all interested in the role of technology in learning. Seriously, if you think you are using google correctly, Alan November will blow your mind. I watch this video about every three months to remind me. Did I mention I am crushing on him. Seriously. I love everything about this guy. I could listen to him for hours. And I have. :) Here is the video from his keynote address where I saw him last summer:

So, once we decided that we really want to create the learning environment that Sir Ken Robinson and Alan November inspire, off we went to Barnes and Noble! Sadly, our store did not have much that looked helpful to me so I settled on The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith. Get the handbook here.

The Homeschooling Handbook gave some fundamentals that I needed and helped me with terminology. I skipped the chapters on the legal stuff, because I already knew that we were probably going to enroll in an umbrella school (https://sites.google.com/site/floridaunschoolers/ for more info) and the chapters on education theory were pretty familiar to me, as I had to learn this to be a teacher. This is a great first read though for when you are trying to decide if this choice is for you.

I then moved on to The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings, here’s the link: Learn Dangerously! I love this book, even though I don’t really think it will have informed my practice all that much. I felt a real connection to the author. I can be pretty anxious (if you know me well and are reading this, please do not elaborate in the comments section). She discusses some of my worst fears and big concerns in her book. So while, I didn’t get a whole lot of “how to” I felt like there was a treasure trove of “it’s totally OK ifs” Hopefully, when the school year starts and the magnitude of this decision hits me, I will be prepared. I will perhaps revisit the chapter where she is hyperventilating in the laundry room, and I will realize that she made it and I can too.

I have also visited many, many blogs. The one that I felt was the most comprehensive for my needs was Blog, She Wrote, written by Heather Woodie. Maybe it’s because she was a teacher, but this source was, perhaps the most reassuring source so far. It not only showed me what homeschooling looked like (what to do with the stuff) it also shared what the stuff was. There were history quests and book study ideas. There were art projects, math work, and science experiments. While I might not use the same materials she has chosen, the sheer amount of information she shares is remarkable. You should visit her sight. No, really do it now: http://blogshewrote.org/

I would venture to say that none of the homeschooling or unschooling parents I have met jumped into this without research. I am sure if you are still with me after my shameful Alan November musings, you are probably either trying to decide or are looking for support. Where are you in this process? What resources were the most helpful to you? Let’s talk pool our resources and help each other!