Yearly Archives: 2014

Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.5) Math

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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The instruction in Mathematics was particularly strong in our homeschool. It was not because we, as the parents, were particularly knowledgeable or had special insights. I think the thing we did well is continually monitor the progress of the kids to assure they continued to learn the material they were in. When we started back in homeschool, we chose Saxon Math. I think that is a great program, but after a couple of months we saw the kids were losing interest because of the tedium and repetitiveness of that system. We needed something that held the kids interest at the same time it laid a strong math foundation for future work.

Singapore Math

We had heard about the quality of Math education in Singapore long before we started homeschool. We just assumed the system was tedious and repetitive, too. We assumed that to receive the kind of in depth coverage of all the foundational material, it would have to be that way. We were so wrong. I read some reviews of the program, downloaded some sample lessons from the Singapore Math web site, talked to some others (also on-line) and decided to give it a try. We thought we would be a little behind because of our false start with Saxon Math, but when the kids took the placement test (available for free on-line), they were a little ahead of their grade levels. When we ordered the books, we decided to just start them at their normal grade levels to let them ease into the program. We were a little surprised that the best pricing we could find on the books at the time was through Sonlight.

We went at the recommended pace for about a week, but the kids were enjoying it enough and doing it so rapidly, we decided to double the assignments. We did that for the duration of the kids elementary school. That put the kids pretty for out front of what might considered to be a normal trajectory. One of the things we really liked about the Singapore Math program was a pretty strong focus on “mental math.” Christian really got into that and could do some pretty amazing calculations in his head. Kelly was not so bad at it either, but got to it at enough of a later age that that particular math skill did not get as ingrained compared to Christian.

Math After Elementary School

After the Singapore Math sixth grade material we switched to Teaching Textbooks. We finished it all well before the kids got to sixth grade and started in on the Singapore Junior High School, but we did not find it to be even remotely as good as the elementary school programs. I will talk about why we decided to switch to a different Math program to study Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry in the section on Junior/Senior High School. For a taste of this, I wrote a post that is one of the most frequently visited posts on this site. It is titled Why we switched from Singapore Math to Teaching Textbooks. Also in the Junior/Senior High School section, I will discuss why we moved away from Teaching Textbooks to Thinkwell Math for Pre-Calculus and Calculus.

A Final Note

We are very happy with the trajectory we took with respect to Math. On the basis of this Math foundation, Kelly earned a degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and Christian earned a degree in Applied Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude) at North Carolina State University. We as confident about the quality of Math education received by the kids than any other subject area with the possible exception of what we studied in the area of Philosophy, Religion and Worldview. We can heartily recommend this path.

Finally, I should note that for Math, we did not follow any of the Sonlight daily planning guides. I am not even sure whether they have a plan for Math. The kids did two lessons per day in Singapore Math and I corrected their work very carefully every night, going over any material with which they struggled. It required diligence on my part and diligence on their part. I think it would have been that way for any math program we would have chosen

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Betty Blonde #230 – 06/03/2009
Betty Blonde #230
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Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.4) Science

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Science was one of those subjects with which we struggled, not so much in terms of finding material, but in how to organize the learning. What we did worked well enough, but we would probably do it differently if we had a chance to do it over again. I guess the issue for us with what we did had to do with timing and organization rather than content. That being said, in the end we felt like we got stellar results from much of what we did. So, I will describe here, first what we would do if we had a chance to do it again because I have given it quite a bit of thought. Then, I will describe our actually trajectory with its challenges and successes.

If we did it again, here is what we would do

The core of Sonlight’s Science programs is now Apologia Science. Their programs are perfect for homeschool and the Sonlight science study guides are indispensable. Our only regret is that we did not start earlier with the Apologia materials. Christian was absolutely ready for Apologia’s General Science by the fourth grade. We would have put Kelly one level up in Apologia Physical Science during her fifth grade year and she could handle that just fine, too. From Sonlight’s science page, the recommended time to start Apologia General Science is in grades 7, 8 or 9. Neither do we believe the material was too difficult for Kelly or Christian at the earlier ages nor do we believe it would have been too difficult for most kids if the parents are engaged in the learning. That way he could have made it through the entire high school series by the end of the eighth grade.

One thing we did right by accident was to buy a science program from the Access Research Network called Real Science 4 Kids, Chemistry I. We were pretty disappointed with the pre-Apologia science provided by Sonlight, so halfway through the year, I started looking for something different. We chose that Chemistry book. The program includes laboratory work that includes taking measurements and evaluating data in a series of experiments. We actually read this book aloud together at night, then the kids would do the experiments during the day. I do not have enough good things to say about the Chemistry I program. I hope Sonlight considers looking into this whole series as part of their curricula some day. We honestly believe it is better than what they currently offer. Due to timing, we never did more than that one book. If we had to do it over, we would have gone through all of those books, but certainly at an earlier age than was recommended. That would have given us an even better foundation for the Apologia material.

The different Apologia programs and the grades at which we would have started them:

The way it actually happened

Sadly, we stuck with the pre-Apologia programs provided by Sonlight until the specified time to start General Science in seventh grade. That bit us some when we the kids could skip high school if they wanted. Christian spent the summer before his Junior year in college cramming for a test required to demonstrate knowledge of high school Chemistry. The funny deal is that it was his memory of the material he learned in Real Science 4 Kids, Chemistry I that jump-started him in his preparation. In the end, the kids did not suffer, too much. Kelly took Geology and two semesters of Biology and Environmental Science as her college level Science requirements. Christian took one semester of Biology, one semester of Chemistry and two semester of Calculus based Physics for his Science requirements. They both did just fine.

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Betty Blonde #229 – 06/02/2009
Betty Blonde #229
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Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.3) Writing and Spelling

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Our plan was for the kids to write a lot during their homeschool years, but the three years in government school created a bit of a deficit in the basic tools of language they needed to do it well. So our first task with respect to language arts was to try to improve those basic tools. Of course the amount of time we spent reading together helped a lot, but we wanted to build up their spelling and grammar skills in a more formal way. The kids did write a lot from the very beginning, but the writing took a back seat to the mechanics of spelling and grammar for the first couple of months. We continued hammering at grammar and spelling with two programs which we found indispensable.

Spelling

For spelling we used Spelling Power. The spelling program took the kids two years each. The blurb they have on their web page says it all:

With Spelling Power, your children will master the 5,000 most frequently used words at their own pace — in just 15 minutes a day — using research-proven strategies.

That is exactly what we did. We spent fifteen minutes per day with each kid on spelling. The program is very systematic in its approach, only a little time was needed each day, fit in well with our Sonlight based daily plans and the kids skills increased rapidly in a measurable way. There might be other ways to do this, but we were glad we found Spelling Power because it was perfect for us.

Grammar

We had some fits and restarts in trying to find a way to teach grammar that would allow the kids to work through at least part of it on their own while I was at work. About two months after we stared, we found a system called Easy Grammar that was every bit as good at teaching grammar to our kids as Spelling Power was at teaching spelling. It was amazing how well this program fit into our Sonlight centered plan, too. The books feature an 180 day per year program of worksheets in series of workbooks. The kids completed the last book, Easy Grammar Plus right before they started study for the Freshman College Composition CLEP examination for college credit. The Freshman College Composition CLEP test has now been replaced with a new one called just College Composition. They took the test at age 13 and passed the exam with high scores. These books were a little dry, but a single day of work was really not much longer than the work on Spelling Power. I have to admit my grammar skills improved quite a bit just correcting their work.

Daily Writing and Research Papers

The kids probably wrote a page per day on their literature and history. In addition, they produced an essay of some sort every couple of weeks or so. We had them do one big writing project every year. That was their formal research paper. The first were a little rough, but then Kelly was a fifth grader and Christian was only a third grader. Here is a link to Kelly’s first research report on Newspapers (pdf) and Christian’s first report on Flight (pdf). They hand illustrated the papers and included formal bibliographies. They were supposed to be 8-10 page papers, double-spaced and formated properly. We would have liked to have found a more formal, systematic way to teach them writing. We tried several systems, but felt none of them were particularly stellar. In the end, we either followed the writing directions of the Sonlight program or assigned essays and analysis tasks we thought up ourselves. The kids did very well in their college level writing, but we did not have warm fuzzy feelings about having covered writing in a systematic way. I think the year each spent in Freshman College Composition CLEP preparation brought them where they needed to be when they went on to college.

Other (Spanish and Typing)

There are a couple of other things we should probably include in the “language arts” bucket. The kids first language is Spanish. We always spoke Spanish at home because we figured if we did not, the kids would not be able to speak with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in Mexico. In that regard, we were right on one count and only halfway right on another. Many if not most of the kids we know who grow up with bilingual parents lose the language of the country they are from if that language is not spoken in the home in the country where they live. They WILL pick up the language of the country where they live as they have many opportunities not to mention a need to speak it. So we were right that we needed to use Spanish as the language of our home. On the other hand, with the exception of the grandparents on both sides, almost all our family in Mexico learned English and all my siblings and most of my nieces and nephews learned Spanish.

Beside speaking Spanish, we purchased Rosetta Stone Spanish. The kids went through two years of Rosetta Stone before they began to prepare for the CLEP Spanish exam. They were able to test out of two years of college Spanish. I am not sure whether we are in a place where we can advise people how to study for Spanish in a homeschool setting because we came at it as native speakers (all but me, anyway, but I can defend myself fairly well).

The other thing we think (if you squint) fits into the language arts bucket is the typing we did. It is funny that we started in on typing in a fairly formal way when the kids were in second (Christian) and fourth (Kelly) grades. We did not want the them to play computer games. They wanted to do something on the computer, so we compromised by “letting” them play Mavis Beacon Typing on the computer for fifteen minutes per day during the summer. They looked at it as a game. Over a period of years they got pretty good and now they are screaming fast typists. That actually helped them a lot in their writing as they did not have to go through the pain of learning to type and write formally at the same time.

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Betty Blonde #228 – 06/01/2009
Betty Blonde #228
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Interventions, Selfies and Fitbits

Dad gets a Fitbit for Christmas and takes a selfieI thought I was just getting a gift, but it turned out to be a full-blown intervention. That thing on my wrist in the picture to the right is something called a Fitbit Charge. I was told it was not the one with the heart rate monitor in it, because that one does not come out for another month or so. I was told I am entirely too fat. I would have argued with them, but they were right. I have never been this big before in my life. They said they got this for me to help me assure I do not eat too much.

So I plugged the thing in to charge last night and set it up when I got up this morning. The Fitbit is that watch on my wrist–pretty fashionable. One thing I did figure out was that doing a selfie can be pretty complicated if you want to show off your new watch at the same time. It is a fun little device. I need to figure out how I am going to report my journey on the blog after I figure out whether I can stick with it.

I am an Industrial Engineer. Industrial engineers are numbers guys. My whole work life is centered around numbers and measuring things. I do not know how I am going to do with this Fitbit, but I will no longer have the excuse that I do not know where I am calorie-wise at any given time. It keeps track of how many steps you take and whether or not you are going up or down stairs. I am amazed at its accuracy. The reality is that it does not have to be perfect. All it really needs is to be close. You have to enter the food you eat so they can account for those calories, but they make that easy for you, too.

I have only had the thing on for a few hours, but every time I go up the stairs it adds another floor to how many flights of stairs I have walked. Whenever I walk, it adds up steps. Based on my weight, goals and how aggressive I want to be, it builds a dial on both my computer and on my phone that shows me how the amount of calories of have consumed stack up against how many calories I have expended for the day. The idea is to end up with the dial indicator in the green at the end of the day. If you do that day in and day out, you will hit your goal in the specified amount of time. I like it and gong to try to make it work.

So far today, I have had an Egg McMuffin, a meduim diet coke and four and a half cups of coffee. I have not done any exercise other than going down to the kitchen from the bonus room to feed the cats and get more coffee. Here is the dial for my current status:

Fitbit dial

Update:  The watch vibrates when I receive a phone call. How cool is that?

Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.2) History and Literature

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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We put History and Literature together in this post because that is exactly what we did in homeschool. We knew from our previous homeschool experience what we wanted from a History and Literature program. Many homeschool programs feature literature that tracks with their history program. We did it that way when Kelly was in the first grade and we were following the methods described in The Well Trained Mind. It worked very well for us. There were additional features of these programs that were important to us and were thankful for our previous experience because it helped us understand what we wanted in the homeschool programs we investigated. I will describe each of those features and the reasoning behind our decisions. These features are not necessarily in order of the importance we ascribed to them.

1. Lesson plans that assured we covered what was needed to move to the next level

I was pretty sure I could make daily lesson plans that would cover all the material the kids needed in History and Literature to move on to the next level each year. I had done it before using The Well Trained Mind. I knew, though, that I could not do that, work a full time job, delivery the material to the kids and correct their work. There just were not enough hours in the day to do it all. That is why I looked for programs that were more “canned.” That is, programs with daily lesson plans and curricula that had continuity from year to year culminating in mastery of sufficient material to perform well at the next levels: high school and college. In addition, we knew that the History and Literature programs should be coordinated with our Writing program.

We liked the idea of spending a couple years on a pass through world history and a couple of years on a pass through US History, then doing it again a couple years each at a deeper level. In addition to wanting to coordinate History with Literature, we wanted to assure the kids would read a representative sample of classic children’s and young adult literature. Actually, The Well Trained Mind was great that way, but again, we just did not have the time to do all the planning ourselves.

2. Reading aloud together

I read to Kelly and Christian a lot. We did it before they went to government school, then through those three years, too. We read many different books including the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series, all the Homer Price books, all the Henry Reed books and much, much more. We did not want to lose that when we returned to homeschool. The problem was that Kelly was entering the fifth grade, two years ahead of Christian starting third grade. We LOVED reading together, but the material they would be covering would be very different. We needed to find a way to be able to read together even though the materials were very different.

3. Literature that represented other worldviews, but that did not diminish our worldview

Everyone has a worldview, even the ones that deny it. One of the reasons we decided to return to homeschool is that the kid’s teachers, Kelly’s in particular, gave lip service to neutrality but aggressively pushed a hard secular and feminist worldview. That worldview had already started to seep into the textbooks from which the kids studied. We wanted them to have some balance. We did not want them to be sheltered from either a secular worldview nor from what we viewed as a rigid, “churchy” worldview, but we did not want either to be rammed down their throat. We will talk about that in more detail in a later post.

What we did

We looked at Sonlight, A Beka, Calvert, Harcourt and some others. The Sonlight programs easily met the criteria we had set for ourselves better than any of the others. We had to be pretty creative when it came to the second category (Reading aloud together), but even that turned out better than we had any right to expect. The first literature book we read aloud together was one of Christian’s, The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It was an awesome start. It had nothing to do with what Kelly was studying, but it did not matter because it was just great literature. The first History material we read together was also from Christian’s program, The Landmark History of the American People: From Plymouth to the West, Volume I. It was probably the best and most interesting History text we read in our entire homeschool experience and that is saying something because we ended up with an amazingly strong History coverage. After that we quit worrying so much about what books went with which program when it came to our read aloud books. Kelly would have missed that great material if we would have stuck strictly to the specified material.

Even though we evaluated the daily plans as best we could from afar, our selection of Sonlight was really a leap of hope (not even a leap of faith). There are ways we could have checked this out more carefully, but the reality is that we did not know we had selected just the right program for our family until we had the Planning Guides in our hands. We did not strictly follow the plans for most materials, but for History and Literature we did exactly what was on the Sonlight supplied plans. It did two things: 1) We covered what we were supposed to cover and 2) it was the anchor for all the other materials, even math and science, that kept us moving forward at a specific pace that culminated in a good result many years later. I will talk about the mechanics of our plans and the role played by the History and Literature sections of the Sonlight planning guides in the section on Elementary School.

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Betty Blonde #227 – 05/29/2009
Betty Blonde #227
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A Patriot’s History of the United States

There is a nice article on the textbook we used in our capstone homeschool course on the history of the United States. The name of the book is A Patriot’s History of the United States. It is truly a stellar resource for homeschoolers or anyone else who wants to understand the true history of the United States. Dependence on undersourced screeds written by the likes of revisionist historians like Howard Zinn have played havoc with the public’s understanding of Amercian history.

A bright sunny, crisp day in Raleigh

Christmas morning 2014 - View out the screen porch

The sun is shining, the air is crisp and the sky is blue on this beautiful Christmas day in Raleigh. We have had snow and rain on Christmas day in past years. I like them both, but this is very nice, too. I am getting a little nostalgic. This might be our last holiday season in Raleigh. The picture above is a view from the screen porch. The leaves have all fallen from the deciduous trees so we can see through to the blue sky a little better. The picture below is a view from the bonus room where my “work at home” office is located. If we go, I will miss it all. A lot.

Christmas morning 2014 - A view from the bonus room

Our Homeschool Story: What Kind of Homeschool Did We Want to Be? (5.1) What were our options?

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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Once we decided to bail on the traditional schools, we needed to make some decisions about how to homeschool. The way we did it three years before when Kelly was in the first grade was too much work. I explain that here and here. We wanted to have assurance that whatever we did would cover the material needed to perform well in high school and college. The reality is that we had somewhat of an idea of what should be covered from our previous experience. We hoped we could find a program with similar content and focus, but that did a lot of the planning for us.

Part of the challenge is that Lorena would be at home with the kids during the day, but even though I worked all day, I would be the principal teacher. That was why it was so critical to find a system that included detailed daily plans. There are lots of great programs out there. We looked at Sonlight, A Beka, Bob Jones, Charlotte Mason, Beautiful Feet and a lot of other programs. We liked the idea that the books in the Literature curriculum were coordinated with the History curriculum. We wanted a program that included extensive day-by-day plans and all the required materials and books, but that also provided some flexibility.

After looking at a lot of programs we determined was that it was going to be difficult to find all the things we wanted in single program and that whatever we did, we were going to have to pay a good chunk of money to do it. It would be a lot less than private school, but because we started from scratch and needed two complete programs we figured it was going to cost us about $5000 for the first couple years. After that, Christian could use Kelly’s program from two years previous and the cost would drop a little. I believe it is possible to do this for a lot less money if more time is available for planning and materials searches, but we did not have that luxury.

In the end, we arrived at a method for buying materials and daily planning that served us well during the entire trajectory of our homeschool with only minor modifications. I will walk through our decision process for each of the different subject areas for which we bought separate materials. This is the thing that got us off on the right foot, provided the structure we need to make homeschool tractable given our circumstances and assured we covered enough of the right stuff so the kids would be prepared for high school and college when the got there.

This section will include posts on the curriculum and materials we selected for each major subject area, why we chose what we chose and how it worked for us over the course of the homeschool. The major subject areas include the following:

  • History and Literature
  • Writing and Spelling
  • Science
  • Math
  • Philosophy, Religion and Worldviews
  • Art, Music and PE

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Betty Blonde #226 – 05/28/2009
Betty Blonde #226
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Murder’s with the middle name of Wayne

I am getting a little worried. Kelly was reading about serial killers on Wikipedia. We noticed a troubling trend in the list of most prolific killers. A lot of them are named Wayne. Even more troubling, we found a list with all the murders who had the middle name Wayne here. The list is HUGE and includes six people named Kenneth Wayne [Last name]. My name is Kenneth Wayne. The list does not even include anyone whose FIRST name is Wayne, only those with a middle name of Wayne. It gives one pause. I hope it is not indicative of anything.

Our Homeschool Story: The government school years (4.2) A new school district makes us reconsider homeschool

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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We are actually pretty thankful for the time the kids spent in the Sherwood, Oregon public school system. The principal was very good. The teachers were engaged. The parents were active in the classroom and the school. Even though the kids enjoyed the school, made friends and participated in everything available to them, we still believe we would eventually have returned to homeschool because the academics were weak at best and the socialization was not nearly as healthy what was available for homeschoolers–I have written about that elsewhere. Still, the kids got to see what government school was like at its best and that was a good thing.

Toward the end of our time in Sherwood some other things happened that gave us pause about government schools in general and Sherwood in particular. The high school principal who we knew because he lived right across the street from us in our quiet little cul-de-sac got caught in a hotel with a teen boy he met on line. He was eventually arrested, convicted and went to jail for this. In addition, a fellow who lived a few houses down from us worked as a teacher at a middle school in Beaverton and was accused and eventually arrested, convicted and served time for abuse of a female student at his school. Based on this article, it does not appear much has changed over the years in Sherwood.

I got a new job in Corvallis, Oregon at the end of Kelly’s third grade year and Christian’s first grade year. That summer, we moved to Albany, a town that is about 15 miles from where I worked in Corvallis. Even though we had thought about homeschooling again, we went ahead and enrolled our kids into the local government school. The idea was that, because I needed to get myself established at my new job and so the kids could start to make friends in our new town, it would not hurt to put them in school. Sherwood had been OK. What could go wrong in Albany.

The first thing that happened when we applied was that the kids were asked to take a test for English as a Second Language to determine whether or not to put them in a remedial class. Maybe there is additional money available for ESL kids. The schools had the kid’s records from Sherwood and could easily see they were high performers, higher it turns out than most, if not all, of their same age peers in the Albany system. Of course Lorena immediately signed up to volunteer in the classroom like she did in Sherwood. She was told that it was fine if she came to the class, but she could not do it too often and she had to give a lot of advance notice. Further, she was told there were paid aides to do the work that parent volunteers normally do. We had never heard of such a thing. Every school we had ever visited and/or heard of begged parents to volunteer.

After two years of a truly enjoyable experience for the kids at a much more highly rated public school in Sherwood, our kids became problem kids at low performing schools in Albany. They still performed at a high academic level, but Kelly’s spirit was getting hard. We demanded she be respectful to those in authority even though the respect was not reciprocated by her teacher nor the principal.

Christian was just lost. He read at a high level at home at the same time he was required to read at a much lower level at school. They made him work at learning stuff he already knew in math because that was the highest level available.The generally surly aides in his classroom had little training and appeared to be there solely for a paycheck. Christian’s teacher was disengaged at best. Christian’s spirit was not getting hard so much as he was getting sad and confused by the fact he was required to either sit quietly and do busy-work or work at a level that must have been excruciatingly boring under the tutelage of a disinterested teacher and callous aides.

This was all bad enough that I started a documentation trail. I made notes of what the kids told me and of what the teachers and administration told me when I met with them. The main feature of my meetings with both Kelly’s teacher and the principal is that they told me how it was going to be while I listened. Even worse, they were categorically dismissive of Lorena. Christian’s teacher had no sense at all for Christian’s capabilities, but at least she was more benign than her aides. I still have many, many pages of handwritten notes that describe our horrible experience at the hands of those schools and their teachers and administrators.

I am glad to say we did find one person there who really tried to do her job as professionally as possible with a spirit of public service. Sadly, she was the secretary at one of the schools who had control over nothing and must have been frustrated with what she saw. She was kind to us and acted apologetic when I waited to meet with the principal. I am really glad I wrote it all down because any time I start thinking it was not so bad, all I have to do is reread my notes.

There were academic reasons to get the kids out of those schools, but the main reason we knew we had to change is that Kelly’s spirit was getting hard and Christian was a little lost soul with no one to advocate for him in the school. He did not feel safe and his spirit was dying. The straw that broke the camel’s back was what we learned about the sex education that Kelly would be taught if she went on to Middle School the next year. At that point, with about two months left, we just decided to get them out at the end of the school year. There were no good private school options, so we knew we needed to start homeschooling again.

We loved our time in Albany in spite of our experience at the hands of the government school system. It is a beautiful town with lots of things going for it. In one sense, we are even grateful to the Albany public schools because they were so bad for our children we finally and emphatically made the choice to return to homeschooling for good. Albany turned out to be a great place to homeschool. There were lots of other people who had bailed out of the government schools for the same reasons as us. The homeschool friendly public library was a huge plus. There were lots clubs, activities, sports teams, music opportunities and on and on and on.

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Betty Blonde #225 – 05/27/2009
Betty Blonde #225
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Boys should not be pushed into STEM fields?

I just read a blog post linked by Luke in the “Other Posts of Note” list over at the Sonlight Blog. The title of the blog post is Stop telling boys to go into STEM and it is just wrong on so many levels I do not even know where to start. First, the idea that there are too many STEM majors is questionable at best. Read this article and this article to start then google it for more articles and lots of research on both sides of this issue. The upshot, though, is that STEM majors make a lot more money whether or not they chose to work in a STEM field. In addition, the author inadvertently makes a very important point when she tells the following anecdote:

Lest you think I’m just being negative toward men, this is actually something a man told me. I had an English professor who was one of the best college teachers I’d had, I think in part because he was very knowledgeable in science. In fact, he’d received a degree in engineering from Stanford but then shuffled around for several years before finally getting a master’s degree in English. During one conversation, I asked him why he got a degree in engineering when he really loved literature.

It is arguable that a STEM degree is better preparation for non-STEM work than many non-STEM degrees. Our daughter Kelly took a similar path by earning a STEM degree (Statistics) all the time knowing she never wanted to work in a STEM job. She has gone on from that Statistics degree to further education in a non-STEM field–several schools offered her funded PhD’s in Marketing. She chose University of Washington. There is no way she would have been accepted into the program after her Bachelors degree following the normal trajectory which typically includes a non-STEM BS, some relevant work and an MBA in Marketing. That she gets the Math and can “do” big data got her in the door. 

I guess the issue centers more on the fact that liberal arts degrees are not highly valued in the work place. There is absolutely more academic and intellectual rigor required to earn a STEM degree than a typical liberal arts degree. It has been argued that many hiring managers view many liberal arts degrees as similar to having no degree at all. See here. My argument is not that non-STEM work is not valuable, but that there are better ways to prepare for it than getting a non-STEM undergraduate degree. I think the answer is to change the non-STEM degrees so they ARE valuable by adding rigor including more Math, Statistics, and Computer programming. Maybe less people would enter those fields, but that is right in line with Charles Murray’s idea about too many people going to college anyway.

And don’t get me started on pushing people toward anything based on their gender. It is abjectly elitist and sexist to do that. So what if a person’s culture, value system or worldview pushes a woman toward a “feminine” field. It is THEIR culture, value system and worldview, not yours. Why is your idea about what they should do better than theirs? Additionally, the sexes ARE different from each other, even (if not especially) in the way their brains operate. Maybe men ARE inherently better at math (a religious discussion onto itself), but even if it is just a cultural construct, who is anyone else to say what is right for given individuals whatever their sex. Why do the self-appointed academic elites get to chose what is right and, therefore, what gets pushed when it is a decidedly unscientific “right or wrong”, personal choice kind of question.

It is a luxury to be able to do what one loves as anything other than an avocation if it does not put food on the table. If you do something you love and it does not pay the rent, someone else has to pick up the tab. If that someone is a spouse, an ancestor who gave you a big inheritance or some other benefactor, good for you. The sad part of all this is that it is off “we the people” who end up paying via ill-advised uses of our tax monies. If such a luxury is not immediately available, it is probably a pretty good idea to a get a job that pays well enough to eat, then work your way into the vocation you love. A STEM degree is not a bad way to do that. The probability that you will make enough money for following your dream is much higher if you start with a STEM degree whether you end up deciding to work in a STEM field after that or not.

Upgrades to “Our Homeschool Story”

You might have noticed yesterday I wrote another chapter in my Our Homeschool Story narrative. This morning, I cleaned up a few thing in the series and added a much better table of contents on the main page and some previous/next links at the beginning and end of each chapter so the story is easier to navigate. Of course, I did this because I am on the first day of Christmas vacation, but got up at my regular time of about 7:00 (when I am at home in Raleigh–it is much earlier when I am out west) because my non-vacation biological clock is still in operation. Everyone else in the house is still sawing logs, so it gave me some time to do some blog work. Hopefully I can use these mornings to do add a few chapters more chapters, too.

BleAx is also on my mind, but I think I will save that for when I am stuck in hotels.

Betty Blonde #224 – 05/26/2009
Betty Blonde #224
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Our Homeschool Story: The government school years (4.1) Why we did it

This post is part of a narrative history of our homeschool. It is about why we chose to homeschool, what we did and how we did it. It is about our failures and frustrations as well as our successes. The plan is to make an honest accounting of it all for the benefit of ourselves and others. This is a work in progress which was started in late October 2014 after the kids had already skipped most or all of high school, Christian had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Summa Cum Laude), Kelly had earned a Bachelors degree in Statistics (Magna Cum Laude) and they were ensconced in funded PhD programs on the West Coast. I add to the narrative as I have time.

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The kids spent three years in government school. We sent them there because homeschool preparation and delivery were just to difficult to do using the methods described in The Well Trained Mind books on which we based our first homeschool year. The problem was compounded because the principle planner/preparer/teacher/correcter  (me) worked full time. Lorena did a lot of work to make the homeschool possible, but I was in charge of content and I just could not get it all done and keep my day job.

During the spring of the school year before we started government school, a juvenile group home moved into the house next to us. The new next door occupants were in continuous uproar. We actually did not feel like it was safe for our kids, so we put our house on the market and got out of there. The good news about the move was that we moved from a very low performing school district to one of the highest performing school districts in the state. I was in a job that required a lot of travel, literally around the world, so we knew we had to do something different. We investigated the school our children would attend, talked to the teachers they were assigned and decided to enroll them.

The kids started school and it was really not so bad. They made a few friends, enjoyed participation in their school’s annual fund raising carnivals and a school play or two and that sort of thing. The problem was that virtually nothing they did seemed to rise to the level of actual education. The first clue we got about that was when Lorena went into the classroom as a volunteer aide. Kelly was a good reader by the time she entered the school, but it seemed like none of the other parents had spent time trying to get their kids up the reading curve.  Lorena spent all her time as an aide in Kelly’s classroom listening to other kids read while Kelly sat in the corner and read books like Nancy Drew, Hank the Cowdog and other books around those levels of difficulty. That kind of thing did not happen all the time, but it did happen more than it didn’t.

Christian’s experience was very similar. He was very competent with books like Junie B. Jones, but none of the other kids were doing much more than memorize the alphabet and say the letter sounds. Lorena spent her time as an aide in Christian’s classroom helping the kids learn how to pick up toys, color, do crafts and act properly in a classroom setting. I know there were plenty of kids out there operating at our kids level, but it did not seem like any of them were assigned to classes with Kelly or Christian. To us, this seemed to say less about how bright were the kids–many of them were very bright–than it did about how serious the parents felt about their responsibility to take ownership of their children’s education.

We were not too worried about it at the time. We continued to do educational stuff at home–reading, writing, arithmetic, memorization, music and everything else we could think to do. The kid’s academic education did not stop during their government school years, it just did not happen in the government school. I guess we were doing what has come to be known as “after-schooling” which is the equivalent of homeschooling, but that happens after the traditional school has babysat the kids for a few hours.

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Betty Blonde #223 – 05/25/2009
Betty Blonde #223
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BleAx rewrite: Introduction

My daughter Kelly drew a comic strip called Betty Blonde five days per week for two years starting when she was thirteen years old. I wrote a program called BleAx a few years back to help her accumulate the four hand drawn panels of her daily comic strip into a single image with a title, date, copyright, borders and that sort of thing. The program allowed the her to automatically upload the strip to a website for display. I did the whole thing by hand for about a year, then spent about six months writing BleAx whenever I had an hour or so free, here and there. BleAx stands for Betty Blonde Aggregator of Comix.

I wrote BleAx in Python and still have it, but have decided to rewrite it as a learning exercise. I normally write programs in C/C++ in my day job, but have recently been wrapping some of the time critical stuff I write in C++ in a Python wrapper so engineers who do not normally write in a “non-garbage-collected” language can use it easily. I now have started using a set of libraries called PySide to write Qt GUI’s in Python. It took me a bit of time and hassle to get my environment set up to automate the GUI development and C/C++ wrapping in so I did not have to go through a ton of manual processes to build the programs and put the results where they needed to be. I do a lot of work with OpenCV so I will talk about how to use that effectively in this environment, too.

I am sure my process is not perfect and that is part of the reason I am doing this publicly, so some of the people that might read this can beat up my process and tell me how to do it better.  To that end, I am going to start rewriting BleAx. I do not have a ton of time, so this will be a little bit of a slow process. I am mostly doing it just for fun and documentation, but if it helps anyone else, that will be great.

Betty Blonde #222 – 05/22/2009
Betty Blonde #222
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Programming and comic strips: An example

Kelly has decided she wants to start drawing her comic strip again as she has time. You can see an example of what she did before at the bottom of this post. She is going to do something different now, but plans to do a four panel strip like before. I wrote up some code to accumulate the hand draw single panels, add titles, copyright notices, borders, etc, and then post the results to our website. I could easily dust off the old code and use it again for her current efforts, but have decided to try to rewrite it as a way to improve some new skills on which I am working.

The idea will be to write a series of blog posts on how to set up an environment to write low level code that needs to go fast in C++ and the GUI and everything else in Python. I plan to talk about how I use Qt Creator, OpenCV, SWIG, PyCharm, PySide, some batch files, and a merge tool to automate this and make it easier. I am at the beginning of another series called Our Homeschool Story that I will also continue, but this is a very different thing that will provide some variety. I hope to start sometime over Christmas break.

Betty Blonde #220 – 05/20/2009
Betty Blonde #220
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More C++, Python, PySide, SWIG, OpenCV and an early Christmas gift

We received a great Christmas gift last night. The big, big boss of our company in Sydney (not just the big boss from Prescott) wrote a letter and gave us an extra five days of vacation over the holidays because we had such a tough year and because of some health issues in our new executive team. The reality is that no one has taken much of a vacation over the last two years and most of us have worked just about every weekend. It will be nice to spend a couple of unfettered weeks with the family.

Just as good, I have been put on a project that involves writing programs in two different languages using a couple of libraries I really like in both of those languages.

“Why two languages?” you ask.

Well, C++ is a language that is very good for doing things very efficiently and effectively, but that can really get you in trouble if you do not know what you are doing. Well written C++ code generally runs much faster than code written in higher level languages like Python. It lets you do just about anything you want and does not provide any restrictions with respect to leaking memory or jumping off into areas of memory that are totally unrelated to what you are doing. Python is a great language for people who are not so comfortable with the freedom of C++. It also allows user to write a lot of functionality fast and has lots and lots of add-on libraries to do lots and lots of things easily.

I normally use C++ because of the need for speed. Other members of my team need to use my code in programs they can develop rapidly for use in scientific experiments and production code for the instruments we make. So, we have decided that I will write my machine vision code in C++, then wrap it up in a Python wrapper using a tool called SWIG. All the tools I normally use in C++ to build GUI’s (Qt) and perform image processing tasks (OpenCV) are available in Python as libraries. The Qt libraries we use are called PySide and the OpenCV libraries are just called Python OpenCV.

I have set up my environment so that whenever I write a C++ library, the Python wrapped results are automatically built and stuck into the correct directory for use by the rest of the team. In addition, when I build a GUI with Qt Designer, I can run a batch file that turns the C++ code into a Python program. I have to do a little merging with that if I change the GUI, but it is all quite painless. I think I might write up what I have done and post it here. I am sure I have some inefficiencies and someone might be able to make some suggestions.

Betty Blonde #219 – 05/19/2009
Betty Blonde #219
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Reddit slams my visitor statistics

I have no worthwhile reason to explain why I have not written for so long. I have been on the road (my usual gig in Prescott), sick (two bouts of the flu), had visitors galore (family for holiday stuff) and have worked long hours on my day job. No of them are a good excuse for not having written. The thing that has gotten me kicked off center again is a comment (here) on my Why Not Skip High School? series of posts. Christan, found it, laughed hilariously and proceeded to post it on Reddit (here). Then, the blog commenced to receive massive hits so I have had the biggest days ever–a somewhat ignoble way to get hits, but I’ll take. Even more importantly, it got me out of my writing slump. I will be back to normal rates of visitor-ship in a day or two, but this has all served its purpose.

Betty Blonde #218 – 05/18/2009
Betty Blonde #218
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