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The First Week

August 21, 2015

We’ve come to the end of the first week of homeschooling. We had the flexibility to decide to have him stay at a tennis clinic this morning, and to push some of today’s work to tomorrow.  When he got home, I still pushed him to get as much work done as possible.  Finally he said to me—with some exasperation—that he’d done half a year’s worth of work in one week.  Not quite true, but it interesting that his perception is that school moves very slowly.

I’ve still felt worried this week that we made the wrong decision, but have remembered negative aspects of his public school that didn’t even play into our decision—a class size twice that of last year; the half-days for parent-teacher conferences, during which very little learning takes place; the week running up to the winter holidays, with sad (at least at our school) performances that take up a lot of time; and most of all, the two weeks of daily testing in the spring, with practice tests leading up to that.

Tomorrow I’ll have our son look at his short-term goals for homeschooling, and journal a bit about the experience. Then we’ll make adjustments for next week.

Schedules and Productivity

August 20, 2015

What really worries me about homeschooling is how I am going manage to stay on top of my job and research.  This first week it is not a concern, and our schedule is not as firm as it will be, but eventually my sanity will hinge on two things: 1) moving our son to greater independence in his work, and 2) establishing a productive schedule for myself.  Right now, he asks me too many questions in the course of an assignment, and some of these are simply for reassurance (is this right?) rather than a true need for clarification. He is also very inefficient, taking much too long to think before he writes, something his teachers have noted in the past.  I am trying to cure this through a lot of low-stakes writing.  That said, he worked for a long time today, longer than he would have in school.

As for establishing my own schedule, I find it difficult to concentrate when homeschooling is going on, even if I’m not directly involved.  I definitely need a cleaner office, and clearer research goals. And I’m looking to Matt Might for tips and inspiration.

Growth Mindset for Adults

August 19, 2015

I have to admit, I’m kind of nervous teaching math.  I was good at math all the way through school, up until high school calculus—which was sort of a disaster and turned me off math.  I don’t really use much math in my adult life, and have this nagging worry that I won’t get it. So I was pleased when I solved the last question for day 3 of Jo Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math, and especially so given that I have always considered myself bad at spatial reasoning.  That growth mindset message is not just for the kids!

Today I’ve also set our son to work on Gamestar Mechanic, and he powered through the first few quests. He says he wants to make his own video games, and I hope this will help him do so independently.  I was inspired by Mind/Shift’s piece on Lynn Koresh (who incidentally teaches at the elementary school I attended).

Can’t Sit Still

August 18, 2015

During a classroom observation last year I saw kids get up, one after the other, to go use the electronic pencil sharpener.  The supply list for the current year instructed students to all bring their own personal pencil sharpeners, as they would no longer be allowed to use the classroom sharpeners.  No further explanation was given, but I assume the change was meant to keep students in their seats—and this won’t end up being good for them.

In the first two days of homeschool, our son has done work hunched over on a bench, seated on a sofa, kneeling on the floor using the sofa as a desk, sprawled on the floor with me, standing while he discussed a poem, and of course at a table.  All these different positions did not impede his work at all, but would be quite impossible in a usual school classroom.  My kid moves a lot—tennis will do that for you—but limited opportunities for movement is contributing to the difficulties students have sitting still, as the Washington Post reported last year.  Jessica Lahey has pointed out that this is particularly an issue for boys, and I’m glad homeschooling will allow our kid to work in a way that is productive for him.

The First Day of Homeschooling

August 17, 2015

So we have pulled our child out of public school for 5th grade, in favor of teaching him at home. I want to try to keep a record of what we are trying, and what we learn along the way, but in some sense I am still processing what it means to homeschool, and to leave a community for the last year of elementary.

Two notes from today: We started with day one of Jo Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math, the Four 4’s exercise.  Our son just learned factorials in a summer program and was excited to put them to use.  He solved all the numbers fairly quickly, with the double-digit primes giving him the most trouble.  He certainly did this faster than I could have, but I already figured out from trying a couple of number talk problems with him that he naturally decomposes and recomposes numbers, while I do it the way I was taught as a child.  (He said he didn’t learn anything new, but I thought the exercise was a total success.)

I had also told him that he would have to make us lunch when he was homeschooled.  And he was on it, making three sandwiches by himself and declaring them the best sandwiches ever.  I’ve never had him do this before, because it always seemed easier and faster to do it myself, but somehow I decided that homeschooling was a good time to have our son take on some more household tasks.  And then I read chapter 5 of Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure (everyone I’ve talked to in the last couple of days seems to be reading this book), which emphasizes the importance of letting children develop everyday competencies.  Her book has been interesting food for thought as we begin homeschooling; autonomy and intrinsic motivation will be important this year.

Young Heroes

September 10, 2013

I just learned about the Heroic Imagination Project, founded by Phillip Zimbardo, who is most famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment. (Before his plagiarism scandal, Jonah Lehrer also wrote about Zimbardo’s project. Since it is still up, I assume WSJ verified the quotes….) Zimbardo and his collaborators have created a curriculum for use with students in middle school on up. Their website provides overviews of the key concepts and videos explaining the psychology behind the curriculum.  I think this is terrific, and hope they expand the curriculum to upper elementary grades—second and third graders are entranced by heroes, and are probably old enough to understand many of the ideas.   


September 9, 2013

Our principal remarked in passing that she gets complaints from parents across the spectrum—both that there’s too much homework, and that the homework is too easy. I think there are two camps of parents at the school: there are those who want more field trips at school, more free time for their kids, and less homework.  Then there are those of us who are concerned that the education our kids are getting is not challenging enough, that the bar could be raised a bit.  When I read Elizabeth Weil’s article on self-regulation, I could think of some parents who would be nodding in agreement.  So I was very happy to read Daniel Willingham’s careful analysis of the piece.  I especially appreciated his discussion of the differences between self-regulation, grit, and socio-emotional skills.  And I really agree with this: “When I visit classrooms or wander the aisles of Target, I do not feel that American kids are over-burdened by self-regulation.”