Preparing for Standardized Tests

Our high schoolers will be taking their ACT tests in a couple of weeks.  Amber has taken the SAT and the ACT, and she prefers the ACT.  So this year she chose to register only for the ACT. She says she prefers it because it's not tricky.  She doesn't have to try to figure out if the answer seems simple because it's a trick question, especially in the math portion.  She struggles somewhat in math, and to worry about whether it's a trick question or not, in addition to worrying about whether she's doing the problem correctly is too stressful for her.  She's always been my straightforward child.  Just tell her how it's done, and she'll do it. Don't overwhelm her, or she'll shut down. She says although the questions can seem a bit longer in the ACT, they are more straightforward and easier to decipher.

This year will by the first time Noah takes either test. I registered him for the ACT test so he can go with his sister, but then he said he'd like to take the SAT, so I suppose he'll be taking both tests this year.  His math course has been preparing him for the math portion of the SAT.  So he probably feels he's better prepared for that test. They've both been practicing their math vocabulary, just as part of their studying and review, and doing some of the math prep questions from the college board website.  I am curious to know, though, which of the two tests Noah will prefer. Because Noah likes a challenge and he has excellent logic and reasoning skills, I'm thinking he will prefer the SAT over the ACT.  But the real determining factor will be the scores.  You do not lose points for incorrect answers with the ACT test, while the SAT does count wrong answers. Either way, all 4-year colleges accept both test scores.  I've heard there will be some changes soon with these tests. In my opinion, the test scores are not a true representation of the knowledge of a student. Multiple choice tests are not a true measure of a student's abilities and achievements.

As a child I studied in South America for a year when I was 14. I remember that the difference between my schooling there and my schooling in the states was like night and day.  The homework assignments, the projects, preparing for tests was all very thorough. The tests we had were true question and answer tests. The answers were paragraph answers.  It's one of the reasons that up until 7th grade, I have my kids evaluated rather than tested at the end of each school year. I think it's a better way to determine how much progress my children are making, but also a more accurate way to determine their strengths and their weaknesses. Once they start 8th or 9th grade, we begin testing because they also need to be prepared for timed tests and and multiple choice tests.  Regardless of whether we test or do evaluations, though, we need to keep it all in perspective.  There is so much more to my child than what this test score or evaluation tells me.


Science and Everyday Life

Wednesday is our science day and this week’s lesson had us working all week on finding ways to make jobs easier.  It all started with Samantha’s elementary physical science on her online science program.  We went to the library and enjoyed exploring the selection of books to bring home and pour over for further study.  I also found some short videos on YouTube to show Sam how pulleys, levers and other tools work.  But the different tasks and lessons she covered on her online science lessons were particularly fun.
Samantha’s first part of her simple machine lesson showed a short video clip of a man getting very tired as he cut a bucket full of oranges.  She then learned about different tools that could possibly be used to work smarter, not harder.  In one of her tasks, Sam had help unscrambling syllables with silly bulls. The program tells us the word and the definition of the word.  For example, reduce. Reduce means to make less or decrease. Then she has to unscramble the syllables to spell the vocabulary word correctly. If her answer is correct, then it confirms it by reading the word and then telling her how many syllables the word has. If her answer is incorrect, it tells her, “Still scrambled. Keep trying.”  The program reads the syllables as she is choosing them and unscrambling the syllables. This is helpful for new readers because it helps them learn to decode words, which is part of learning to read.

Each lesson builds on the previous lesson.  The second lesson showed us the Halfer 2000 machine, which was created to make cutting oranges smarter, not harder.  Here Sam had to drag labels to the right part of the machine to properly label each part of the machine. These were tools she had learned in the previous lesson.  As Sam picks up the label to drag it, it reads the label. If it’s incorrect, it will say, “Sorry,” or “Keep trying,” and then tell us the name of the part and the function of that part.  If Sam’s answer is correct, it will say, “Yes,” or “You got it,” and then tells us what the function of that part of the machine is.  Sam gets excited when she hears, “You got it!”  But she’s also encouraged when she hears, “keep trying,” when she gets the answer wrong.  And again, if she weren’t a good reader, it is helpful that the program reads the label for her as she picks it up to place it on the part of the machine. The program teaches us how much easier a job like cutting buckets of oranges can be with a machine that uses  6 different tools that work together.

On another lesson Jojo mixes up the words in the glossary, and they are no longer in alphabetical order. Oh-oh. It’s Sam’s job to fix what Jojo has done and put them in alphabetical order so they’re easier to look up. Science4Us doesn’t assume the student knows what it means to alphabetize. As you move the mouse around, there’s an area that says, “Tell me about alphabetizing.”  Although Sam has practiced ABC order before, it’s something Sam is still learning. So I have her click on this spot so she can hear an explanation again of what it means to alphabetize.  It’s helpful for her to hear the explanation and to see the alphabet line right in front of her as they unscramble a word list to teach how to alphabetize words.  She’s a visual learner, so this is so helpful.  It’s also helpful for auditory learners.  I appreciate that I’m able to pause the video so I can go over any portion that I feel she may need to hear again or review. Another feature I like is that the letters are highlighted in different colors as they’re being described. I know this is particularly helpful for kids with dyslexia or if they’re still learning to recognize the letter placement as they’re alphabetizing.  Once we went through the hows and whys of alphabetizing, Sam then started to work through putting the glossary in ABC order. Throughout the exercise, there are prompts that encouraged her and gave her tips.

In the last lesson and exercise, Pinky has several tasks for which he needs tools to make his job easier.  As he reaches each task, he asks for help on choosing the right tool.  If Sam chose the right tool, it told us the name of the tool and then Pinky showed us how he used the tool to accomplish the task. If Sam chose the wrong tool, then Pinky would say, “Umm, nope,” and the program would say the name of that tool and tell us how that tool would be more helpful.  Now the tools in this exercise were different tools, more everyday tools we find at home, like scissors, a door stop, a noodle, tinker toy and hammer.

The last task Sam learned was taking notes about the lesson. She learned to "analyze or think about the different machines and examine them really closely." This is how the program worded it.  I like how the program basically described what it means to analyze a lesson.  Then she learned to fill out a chart and organize details about the machine. Sam started by choosing the definition for the tool, in this case, a lever. Again, if the choice Sam makes is wrong, it tells her what that definition is actually for and tells her to try again. So even though she’s gotten it wrong, she’s still learning what word goes with that ‘wrong’ definition she chose.  The next task is to choose characteristics of that tool (lever), giving Sam choices.  Once she chooses the right characteristics, they place them on the correct place on the notepad. The next task is choosing examples of levers and non-examples of levers.  The final picture is the finished product she has put together on the notepad.  We see a picture of a notepad with a tool, in this case a lever, with the definition, characteristics, examples and non-examples.  I particularly loved this exercise because it taught Sam the importance of taking notes and a simple way of taking notes.  At the end of this task, it gave Sam the option of saving this note.
This was such a thorough lesson, but I still wanted to reinforce what she learned.  

These lessons could've been done over a week or several weeks. We chose to do them all in one day.  We also repeat the lessons another day because that's how Sam learns best.  I was able to find resources from our library and show examples of the use of simple tools in our daily life, like using a ramp for a wheel chair, or a door stop to keep the door open, or a magnet to pick up all the pins we dropped.  After doing laundry, the string in Sam’s sweatshirt fell out. So I used a simple tool to thread it through. I showed her how putting a safety pin on one end of the string and threading it through is a simple way of threading it back in place.  

This is an example of  homeschooling where lessons becomes part of our everyday life, or everyday life is homeschooling. We were able to incorporate things we use and do every day into part of our lessons.  If Sam were in school, these lessons would’ve possibly ended after an hour or so.  I’d love to hear some examples of how your homeschool blends in with your everyday activities. 

Family Camping

This weekend we went camping again!  I think we've gone camping more in the last few months than we have in the last five years. I tell you, my kids are getting older, and we just want to spend as much time together as a family as we can before they're off to college or on their own. And what better way to have a family vacation than with camping? No cell phones, computers or other technological distractions. We went with 3 other families, but we still spent a lot of time as a family around the fire, going for walks, talking, canoeing and kayaking.  We were only gone for a couple of days, but even a couple of days makes such a difference. Thankfully, we had nice weather, too.  No rain, which is great since we sleep in tents. It was cool in the evening, but not freezing cold like the last time we went camping. And you know I've mentioned before that for a Florida girl like me, anything below 60 degrees is too cold for me.  But as long as I have a nice fire, I'm fine. And my son is very good at starting and keeping the fire burning. Then there's good conversation around the fire with my dear family and friends. And let's not forget some good music. One of our friends just loves playing his Johnny Cash. Just throw some good old classic rock and contemporary Christian music, and I'm good. We all share the same taste in music. My daughter also likes Indy music, which is growing on me. :)

This time we took our canoe, and my daughter brought her kayak.  It wasn't an uneventful day on the river though.  I have to admit, I stayed behind and enjoyed some quiet time reading a book.  And to be completely honest, the last time I went out on the water with my husband, he tipped us into the water.  I didn't want a repeat of that!  I didn't want it for our daughter Samantha, either, since this was actually her first time in a canoe.  So I sent her with our friend and his daughter.
My husband and our son went in our canoe, while Amber took her kayak.
My husband & Noah loading our canoe, while Amber helps load her kayak.
She's smiling. Must've been before the spider episode

Amber came back about a half hour later, exasperated by the water spiders that had crawled into her canoe! She says there were hundreds of them! Thank God she didn't tip the kayak over trying to get away from them.  I wish I could say the same for my husband and son.

Noah tells me that as his dad was talking to our friends in the other canoe, he started to lean to one side and before he could try to balance the canoe back, they were falling over and into the water! See. I'm so glad I wasn't in that canoe! Especially since there was an alligator sunning near the edge of the water just down the river from us....and I'm sure there was more than one. Our friends managed to get a picture of them as they were getting back in the canoe. Too bad they didn't get pictures of the alligator. But I'm glad to report everyone made it back to the campsite safely.

The most popular spot at our campsite was the hammock!  If anyone was missing, it was likely they were in the hammock either napping or reading. And Samantha was found in the hammock most of the time. She's been reading her new favorite book, Because of Winn Dixie. When she likes a book, she will carry it everywhere and read it several times. Just like when she likes a movie, we all get to see it several times. Which has been the case with Frozen. I'm sure we're not the only once who have watched that movie more than once in the last few weeks, though. Am I right?  And like most homeschool moms, I use it for her benefit.  One of our favorite websites that we use for homeschooling has literature-based word lists by grade level.  We found a vocabulary word list for Because of Winn Dixie and have been using that this week.  And she's been doing some of her copywork from the book, which is also helping her grammar, punctuation and penmanship.  See, school work doesn't have to be boring. She doesn't mind copy work from one of her favorite books.  I could have her copy from the dictionary or an encyclopedia. Ugh. I remember my grandfather used to have me do that. And I wasn't homeschooled!  He used to keep a notebook of vocabulary words that he found in the dictionary that were new to him. I guess that's where I get my love of words from, but copy work from dictionaries?  No, I don't think so.
Do you have any memories of educational tools you used as a kid that you use or wouldn't use with your kids?

Bullying in School and Socialization

There is so much bullying that goes on in schools, and we're hearing more and more about it lately with the anti-bullying campaigns. I think that middle school is probably the worst.  My two oldest kids were not homeschooled. They attended a brick-and-mortar school. My daughter was made fun of her first year in middle school. Fortunately her brother was in school with her and protected her. But how many kids have to endure that every day?

Bullying can happen to just about anybody because they may be different or because the don't fit in to a mold that the popular kids deem appropriate, or it can just simply happen because they're at the wrong place at the wrong time. Some kids are just bullies and will pick on the kid in front of them because they can.  I'm so glad for the freedom to homeschool because I know if my kids were in school, a couple of them may be subject to being bullied.  One child because she has special needs and the other one because he's shorter than average.

A friend recently confided in me about her son's experiences with bullying in the classroom. She's concerned enough that she's considering homeschooling him. I've suggested an eighth grade online curriculum for her to look into. I advised her to pull him out immediately and start now, even if it is mid-year.  I pulled one of my children out mid-year and was so glad I didn't wait. It's never too late to start homeschooling, especially if your child is asking to be homeschooled. For a first-time homeschooler I would recommend an online curriculum that helps track the student's work and progress and one where the lessons are already prepared. It gives you a guideline to go by if it is all new to you. Then the following year or years you can supplement if you choose to.  There is enough already to adjust to when bringing a child home from a brick-and-mortar school. I would even recommend taking at least a couple of weeks off to de-program from the 7-hour a day school textbook routine.  Just spend time together and ease into the new routine. Talk about the expectations you have for your child. And don't be afraid to tell him that this is new to you, too, and there may be changes as you go. Let him know what your priorities in bringing him home to learn are. For our family, while academics are important, biblical training, character training, family bonding and a love for reading and learning are most important.

Ironically the argument of socialization is often made against homeschooling.  "If you're going to homeschool your child, he's going to miss out on socialization." Really?  Is this the kind of socialization we want for our children?  Is this what is meant by socialization by some, "Let your kids learn how to defend themselves"? What do you think? Do you think socialization in a school setting, a classroom with 20-plus kids to one teacher, or a cafeteria with a hundred or more kids to a teacher or two is a good atmosphere for socialization?