What is the Common Core about anyway?

The Common Core State Standards is definitely the education buzzword these days, and with good reason. Even homeschoolers, of which I am proud to be, are concerned about the long term affects it will have on our freedoms to educate. Though many people look at common core as a way to get everyone on the same page with learning… others ( mostly our government) look at it as another way to control what happens across our country. A perfect example of good intentions gone awry – or maybe it is simply a bad intention cloaked in a “good” cover.

As a classroom teacher, I realize that fundamentally the common core just can’t work. There is no way that someone in Washington can determine what Susie needs in my 1st grade classroom even if it is 1st grade online curriculum. The power to decide how a child is educated must remain with the parent and those that are local. Whose child is it? Definitely not the US government’s child. It is my child and I should always have the right to decide just how he/she is educated.

How did the Common Core get started?

The idea began in 2008 with the National Governor’s Association. Soon after NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officials began accepting grants to develop the CCSS. In 2009 and 2010 Race to the Top funding is set aside for schools that adopt the Common Core State Standards. (HMMM… this looks like a bribe to me???)

Is the Common Core already in effect?

Each state is different but initially there were 45 states that adopted the CCSS. However, once these standards went into implementation states began to see the major flaws and issues surround the standards. Many of these states have now backed up and decided not to adopt the standards.

The Federal Government’s Involvement?

Technically there are three sets of laws that prohibit our Federal Government from delineating state education requirements. Yet, our government went out of its way to promote the standards by: setting conditions on grants that make them contingent on implementation of the CCSS, offering waivers for the most difficult parts of the No Child Left Behind Act if states began implementing CCSS, and awarded millions of dollars to the state consortia to craft assessments for CCSS.

Does centralized education work?

The US has spent billions of dollars over the past decades to improve our educational system. However, with all the money involved, we still have only seen a marginal increase. Financially, a very poor investment. However, in Finland the educational system ranks nearly the highest on earth and their government has increasingly DEcentralized education. Taking Finland’s example would not only save us money – but make education better for everyone in the long run!

How will CCSS affect homeschoolers?

As the federal government gains increasing power of the educational decisions of our nation, I believe that this will carry over into homeschooling as well. There is supposed to be a nationwide educational database that will be formed as the states implement CCSS. This database would give information regarding every child that is educated. The other aspect that will affect homeschoolers is the alteration of the assessment instruments. Homeschoolers still take the same standardized assessments that their public school peers take to enter college. These tests are actually changing this year, so we will see soon enough.

So, what’s your opinion of the CCSS? Do you think it will impact your homeschooling efforts?

Making the Most of Your Homeschool Days

homeschool disciplineI enjoy being at home with my children, yet there are days that I feel more like a referee than a mother. Do you ever feel like that? I really hate feeling that way, and have recently been trying to find ways to keep my children from fighting and focused on their homeschooling and other positive things. Trying to get kids to think positively instead of negatively at every turn is a real feat. I have come to realize that my correction must be consistent and thorough to keep them on the right path.

This week I have determined that I PERSONALLY am going to be consistent with correction whenever they argue and are disobedient. Many times out of my sheer frustration or possibly laziness I’ll pass that responsibility on to my husband or even a later date. Yet, in reality that does nothing but provoke the issue, because the perpetrators are getting away with it! So, whether it is convenient for me or not… this week we are all going to be toeing the line. Not only kiddos, but parents as well!

Our homeschool is quite eclectic this year. Blended with everything from first grade homeschool curriculum to middle school writing we are using workbooks, videos, online curriculum and everything in between. Maybe the broad mixture is keeping it interesting… because all of them seem to really be “into it!”

I’ve also noted that for our family – a good routine works wonders. I have changed my organizational pattern this year to reflect more independent study. I am sad they are growing up, but it is my duty to teach them those skills that will make them successful without my help. So, independent study skills…here we come. I’ve noticed this week that all of my kids have responded very well to this and have actually seemed to enjoy getting down to business each morning.

Making Homeschool Grading Work

I know homeschooling is a full time job – maybe even with tons of overtime!! It isn’t easy always being on duty for these precious kids we have, but top that off with being responsible for their grades… well… now that’s just really rocking the boat!

While it is true that most homeschooling parents really hate to assign grades, it is a necessary task. Our children need the feedback that grades will give them. Grades do let our kids know if they are really understanding the material that they are learning, they allow them to gain confidence that they are learning and growing, and they also allow us as parents to see if we have been hitting the mark. All of these things while not earth stopping… are important to the learning growth of our children.

We have studied everything from earth and space to art curriculum… while each one has it’s intricate differences they all are teaching our children something. In this learning, grades can play an important role. Even though we may understand this, many homeschoolers still struggle with how to grade objectively and appropriately. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Have a settled grading scale for your homeschool

2) All grades should correspond to your goals and objectives for that course for the year. We should never grade on something that we didn’t study!

3) Grades should always be given objectively… you can do this by having a checklist for a particular project or report that needs grading, by using rubrics, by setting predetermined guidelines that both you and the student understand.

4) Always let students know the fundamental criteria that you have for grading their work.

5) Of course, once you have grades you must keep records. It is very important that you keep good records and record the grades that you have taken. These can tell you and your student a world of information if used properly.

Homeschooling Your High Schooler

high school homeschoolI meet so many young people these days who are begging their parents to homeschool them. They are dissatisfied with the government schools for one reason or another. The sad thing is that many of these families just think they “CAN’T” homeschool. I have been able to tell many of them how truly easy it is to homeschool  – and not just homeschool but homeschool with excellence!

One of my most amazing discoveries has been the vast wealth of information available from American Ivy League schools for free! Yes, you heard me correctly. These courses come in the form of what many call “open courseware” and they are truly available for free. The university or college will place their video lectures for particular courses on the web, and anyone is able to view them and gain knowledge. They do not include any tests or quizzes nor do they offer college credit for these courses. However, students can use these courses as their high school lectures and receive a top quality education for free.

Another option to even further your investment (FREE goes a long way) is to encourage your children to complete open courseware courses on subjects that are available through CLEP. If you haven’t heard of CLEP it stands for College Level Examination Program. Students can take tests through the College Board (makers of ACT/SAT) and then receive up to a certain amount of college credit based on their test score. This is a great way to get your highschool homeschool courses for free and get a jump on college!

I have started this process with my two oldest children. We purchased the CLEP study guide, and have been using several of the free open courseware courses as our high school homeschool curriculum. When we finish these courses this spring we will be off to take the CLEP tests. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Of course, if you’ve already had experience in this area… please share and let us know how it went for you.

Algebra in Junior High?

At our house, it is a crime if you don’t like math! No, not really… but I happen to love math. I tutor students from all over in high school math, and I see how difficult it can be to stay on top of it if a student gets a little behind.

I encourage all my homeschooling friends to get their kids grounded in Algebra during the Junior High years. For one, it allows them to get a good foundation before high school requirements begin. I have seen time and time again, if the student stuggles in Algebra I they seem to struggle throughout high school. Getting a solid foundation in Algebra is vital to their high school success.

You can easily accomplish a solid Algebra foundation in Junior High by getting a challenging curriculum for your student. You don’t need anything too advanced, but you do need to find one that presents all the major algebra concepts.

Here is a great FREE online Pre Algebra course

Cool Math presents comprehensive lessons on the major algebra concepts. You could use these in conjunction with a workbook.

Time4Learning has a great algebra curriculum that works very well for Junior High level students.

Sometimes our student can be a math visual learner, if that is the case you’ll need to present Algebra concepts with visual manipulatives. This link is a great article on how you can do that!

There is also Khan Academy which is the rising star of teaching math and science online. They have lessons that teach just about every mathematical concept presented in high school. Definitely something we can’t live without.

Homeschool Math – Manic Mania or Amazing?

Homeschooling math can be fun or frenzy. There are always topics that even the most gifted math students have trouble with. What do you do when your homeschool students have trouble with something?

My first response is to reteach the whole lesson. This is usually my go to method. I’ll reteach the lesson in a different manner than the first time I taught it in order to make sure that I cover everything in a comprehensive manner.

Another approach is to go through the lesson again with the use of manipulatives. Using manipulatives to make connections to real world applications can make all the difference.

A third option is to actually take the math to the real world. Find some way that you can immerse the child into a project based method of learning. This is a great way to make the math “real.”

Finally, learning math facts as part of a foundation of understanding can be very beneficial in building upon those foundational math facts. Make sure that kids know their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts and math will be a bit more easy to build upon.

Super Heroes of Elementary Homeschool Curriculum

I know,  everyone has there favorites. I do too. I’m really not trying to play favorites, but there are just a few homeschool curriculum that really stand out! I’ve homeschooled for many years with six children and there are some curriculum that are good, but just don’t work for big families. There are others that might be easy for big families, but I just don’t feel like they work for us. So, without further adieu here are our “super heroes” of Elementary Homeschool Curriculum.

Bible –  We enjoy Five J’s Free Bible Curriculum and Harvest Ministries also has a free Bible curriculum that’s great!

Math – Our favorite of all time is Saxon Math – though it isn’t free… it’s still a superhero. We also have used ABEKA for elementary math and it works great for us too! As a supplement to our curriculum we also use Time4Learning for math and Language Arts.

Language Arts – We have up until this year used ABEKA for language arts, but recentlys switched to Saxon for this as well. We have been enjoying it! Again we use T4L to supplement, and our spelling curriculum is ABEKA put into Spelling and Vocabulary City.

Science is definitely Apologia. We use this curriculum provider from Kindergarten through high school. It is written specifically for homeschoolers.

History is a mixed bag. We use Time Travelers History for the little guys, and a mixture of free online college courses for our high school history!

Foreign language is Latin by Memoria Press with the DVDs for elementary school, and Rosetta Stone for our high school students.

We just started a new writing focused unit using the two books…Rip the Page and Don’t Forget to Write!

This year has been a great year so far, I feel the kids are learning a lot!

What are some of your favorites?

To test or not to test?

homeschool testingTesting is a controversial subject even within homeschooling circles. For many, testing is a means of scoring achievement in a mass produced way. If this is true, then homeschooled children who are watched and worked with daily by their mentors (parents) would have no need for testing. Unless, there had to be proof of achievement.

I believe this is where most homeschoolers agree. Testing is not a necessary aspect of education as long as a child is achieving and learning. A parent can use informal methods of assessment such as label the states on this map, or dissect this flower and tell me the names of each part.

Assessment is useful, but paper pencil testing isn’t always necessary. For example, when learning how to write – a paper pencil test isn’t the best measurement. However, actually writing and using the skills for authentic assessment is more applicable.  In fact, if I can teach my child how to write an essay to describe a particular learning experience, then the student will have to use many levels of thought instead of just answering rote memory questions on a test. It is so much better, to somehow get the student to internalize the knowledge instead of just memorize it.  I personally believe that once my child enters high school testing becomes a necessary evil. If the student plans on going to college a transition to typically formal testing must be made.

However, for homeschoolers the state will often make this decision for us. If the state that you live in requires that you test either formally at home, or by using a standardized test you must submit to that standard.

What is your take on testing? Do you test your children with paper pencil tests? Or do you use informal testing?

Searching for Homeschool Friendly Colleges

I can’t believe I’m really wrapping up my homeschool journey with my oldest daughter. Time has really flown by. It seems like yesterday when we first brought her home and started homeschooling.

We’ve had some ups and downs but for the most part its been a wonderful eight years. She’s grown into a beautiful, respectful, hard working young woman and I am so happy to be her mother.

The only down side we face right now is the challenge of finding a good college and adequate financial aid to enable her ato attend. There is a myriad of options and financial labyrinth to navigate. I must admit these final months have been fobbed of their sweetness due to these massive decisions.

I am using a few websites for guidance as we make these life change decisions. These have been indispensible in the process…

1)Let’s Homeschool High School – in particular their article on homeschool-friendly colleges.

2) Homeschool Help from HSLDA

3) SAT writing resources – and Test help

4) The Federal Financial Aid Resource page

5) Homeschool Transcripts Help

New Year’s Resolution… friend or foe?

New Years Resolution HomeschoolThe New Year is a great time for reflection and review. I usually spend some time, reviewing the previous year and mentally making note of how I could have done better or differently. I try not to beat myself up over things that ended badly.  I personally like to review the fall term of homeschool and see if there are things that should be changed to make our homeschool adventure even better. I usually look at every aspect from our spelling lists by grade to whether or not we need a writing tutor. A little introspection is good for the soul, but too much can often lead to depression. So, take it easy on yourself and let 2012 lead to ways you can make 2013 better!

After reading a little on the internet about how to make New Year’s Resolutions that actually stick, I realized that as we make these resolutions we often reach too high. We want to make a giant leap of faith, when we are really only ABLE to take baby steps.

1) When making a resolution resolve to do something that you are able to do. Take a baby step toward your ultimate goal, and practice that baby step every day until it actually becomes a HABIT! We all know about habits… they are certainly hard to break. So, the resolution that sticks is the one we turn into a habit!

2) Remember the rewards that your resolution will bring… when the going gets tough! Don’t focus on how hard this your resolution is, focus on the great reward the resolution will bring.

3) Allow yourself to be accountable to someone. When we make resolutions that only we know about, they are so much easier to break. Yet, when we let others know about our resolution – that adds an element of accountability and everyone can use a little accountability!

4) Use tools to help you successfully navigate your resolution. There are some super apps that help you stay on task, stay focused, and organize your life. Find tools that will help you in your quest to change.